How to Finally Start Going Zero Waste A notebook with 'Start today.' written in pink pen to encourage others

How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste – Part 3


So you’ve started making some small changes to ease into this new zero waste lifestyle, but how do you keep track of them and hold yourself accountable? That’s where Part 3 in my How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste series comes in. Click the links to read Part 1 and Part 2. In this post, I’ll teach you how to set goals with various deadlines to stay motivated and constantly learning as you continue making progress.

Part 3 – Setting Goals

Doesn’t it feel great crossing off items on your to do list? When I started out, I created a list of goals I wanted to accomplish within six months. I also kept a set of weekly goals written up each Saturday or Sunday and challenged myself to accomplish all of them by the following weekend. This gave me motivation to start making the changes I wanted, both big and small.

6 Month Goals

These goals weren’t created necessarily with the idea they would be met within six months, but looking back at the list, this amount of time made sense. These goals were mostly with respect to making changes to lower my carbon footprint while my weekly goals were usually learning opportunities with some other things mixed in.

Some of these goals ended up on the weekly lists and got checked off that way. Others were a result of a change in accessibility (graduating college and moving) or running out of the plastic version of an item and needing to buy a better version.

My List

  1. Carry around silverware and containers just in case
  2. Visit thrift stores
  3. Look for package-less foods/choose better snacks
  4. Bring your own cup
  5. Refuse everything disposal (flyers, free items, plate with free food)
  6. Start experimenting with list of DIY recipes
  7. Use up all currently owned plastic-packaged products
  8. Donate/Sell/Toss a lot of items (move toward minimalism)
  9. Visit local food co-op to take notes on prices and products
  10. Start gardening or at least keeping plants alive
  11. Buy reusable pads/menstrual cup
  12. Start meal prepping
  13. Start composting

While some of these items just required a few minutes to check off, others required a much longer time commitment and/or depended on accessibility.

I still haven’t been able to cross of gardening, and I still have a lot of packaged items to get through, but I’m working on it. These things take time, and just because I didn’t cross them off within the 6 month period doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

Weekly Goals

These goals were meant to keep myself on track and in the know each week. Like I mentioned, I also had the occasional 6-month goal on my list for the week. Carrying silverware and containers was a really easy goal to complete in a week, but I also moved visiting the thrift stores and food co-op to my weekly lists.

Sample Week 1

  1. Watch at least 7 YouTube videos this week
  2. Check blogs and YouTube channels for new content
  3. Comment at least 2 times on environmental subreddits
  4. Have at least 7 vegan meals this week
  5. Sign up for a volunteering event

Sample Week 2

  1. Watch a documentary this week (Cowspiracy)
  2. Check blogs and YouTube channels for new content
  3. Visit the food co-op and make notes about bulk items
  4. Have at least 15 vegan meals this week
  5. Buy only vegan and/or low packaged foods this week

Changes Over Time

As the weeks ticked by, I gradually increased the difficulty of my goals, but that’s only because they were becoming too easy! I think I started out with 5 vegan meals per week and added more every couple weeks or so, but then I switched to almond milk and boom! All my breakfasts became vegan, so I had to up the ante.

(Just a side note: I have been vegetarian for over a decade before choosing to make a large, conscious effort to living sustainably. Adding a few vegetarian meals a week is still a very great goal if you still eat meat!)

The inverse of that is I gradually decreased the amount of time spent reading blogs and watching videos. I had learned so much that I only needed to check in and skim articles every once in a while instead of reading each post in full. Instead I added action items like cleaning the litter on my street or taking trips to the farmers market. I started researching deeper into topics I liked and searching for answers to questions I had instead of clicking on the next video in line.

Your Own Goals

To start setting goals for yourself, take a look at your lifestyle. What are the areas of your current life you’d like to change? Go through each room of your home or think about what things you do each day to find out where you can make improvements. Complete a trash audit and see where you can reduce physical waste. Click here to receive a free trash audit worksheet to get started!

Questions to Answer

When you start writing up your own lists, keep these questions in mind.

  1. What resources does this goal require for completion?
  2. What is the carbon footprint of this goal?
  3. Is this goal feasible in the time allotted?
  4. Does this goal depend on things beyond my control?
  5. What will I get out of completing this goal?

With regards to the carbon footprint of goals based on purchases, try answering these questions:

  1. Where and who are you buying from?
  2. How are you getting there or how is it coming to you?
  3. Is there a better option? More ethical? More sustainable? Compostable?
  4. Can you do without it?

Again, planning is necessary. Look at your options and do some research beforehand to make sure this is the best way for you to complete this goal.

Breaking Up Goals

If a goal requires resources, perhaps split it up into multiple smaller goals. Maybe you need to make a trip to the store to purchase ingredient for your DIY toothpaste recipe. Maybe you need to set aside time on the weekend to stop by the farmers market. Or maybe you need plan out your meals for the week to ensure you buy enough for your vegetarian/vegan meals. Set yourself up for success and know what steps you need to take to check off that item.

Making Your Goals Manageable

I also had to look at what I could accomplish at that point in time. I wasn’t going to go vegan overnight (and I’m still not vegan) so I started small and worked my way up to eating a more plant-based diet.

My goals also depended on my week. If I had exams, maybe we lower the number of videos I should watch. I don’t mean to sound like I skimped out and made it easy for myself. My weekly goals still required time and behavioral commitments, and once they felt too easy I made them harder. But I didn’t set the bar so high as to make my goals impossible.

When I wrote up my 6 month goal list, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to mark some off for a while. I was still in college and couldn’t feasibly compost or grow plants yet. It didn’t make sense to start trying out DIY recipes yet because not only did I still have conditioner and toothpaste and whatnot, but I also need to be able to pack everything up in a car to move home and the less items I had the better.

So these goals needed more time and different conditions, but I made sure they stayed on the list because someday soon I might have the opportunity to cross them off. I kept them as a reminder there’s still something to reach for. We can all keep learning and making progress, no matter how far we’ve already come.


Finally you have to keep in mind why you are working toward this goal. Is it to learn something new? To finally make that one change you keep telling yourself you’d make? To reduce your food waste? Whatever the reason, use it to motivate you throughout the week, month, or year until you can make that check mark.


Setting goals is important for multiple reasons. First, you create a plan instead of going in blind. Second, you hold yourself accountable. Third, you give yourself something to strive for. And finally, you get a little surge of satisfaction from achieving them that will keep you moving forward.

What are some of your goals? How will you accomplish them?

While goals can give you motivation for going zero waste, there’s still a lot of doubt and judgement you may find yourself facing along the way. On Friday, I’ll discuss how to avoid pessimism in Part 4 of How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste. Stay tuned!

How to Finally Start Going Zero Waste A notebook with 'Start today.' written in pink pen to encourage others

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