The Zero Waste Beginner's Guide

The race against climate change and environmental degradation are becoming even more crucial than ever before.

By Lifestyle Guide

June 15 2020

The race against climate change and environmental degradation are becoming even more crucial than ever before. Living a little lighter on earth is increasingly becoming a responsibility that many have taken to heart to live out; in fact, it has become so popular that it is even becoming trendy.

All the hype aside, the virtue of sustainable living should be maintained. A movement that has swept through the internet is the zero waste moment, all in the same vein with sustainability. We will be explaining this movement and bringing you along with us as we discover what exactly is zero waste, why is a zero waste lifestyle effective, and in what ways can we adopt this lifestyle.

What is Zero Waste Living? 

Zero Waste living can be thought of as an ethical and visionary goal to guide people in changing their lifestyles by adopting environmentally sustainable practices where all discarded materials or waste is reused, repurposed or recycled. Having this goal in mind leads to an efficient way of living that emulates sustainable natural cycles where our negative impact on the environment is significantly lessened with trash and waste production reduced to nearly zero.

Many international organizations and local organizations have emerged in recent years with the ethos of establishing a zero waste world. Truly a global initiative, Zero Waste International Alliance had curated a list of non-profit organizations, municipalities, and businesses across the globe who have committed to working towards zero waste. When it comes to going green and living sustainability, 3Rs will come to most minds: Reduce, Reuse, and, Recycle. However, it is pretty much up to debate when it comes to accessing the effectiveness of merely following the 3Rs.

Before we jump into the mechanics of this concept, it is important to know that zero waste is the destination that we are working towards, this is by no way an absolute goal. Instead, fulfillment can be found in the steps taken towards achieving zero waste. Remember, every effort and step taken towards this goal counts.

Principles of Zero Waste 

According to research done by Sustainable Jungle, there exist the 5Rs of zero waste, these 5 Rs are essentially written in the order in which to reduce waste.

  1. Refuse

Say no to things that are not necessary or which can be substituted - these can range from single-use plastics, takeaway coffee cups, plastic grocery bags, disposables etc.

  1. Reduce

This is a familiar concept to most of us, to reduce our consumption of unnecessary items, they can materialize as excessive buying of new clothes, chasing the latest electronic products, or even the amount of water we use while showering or taking a bath.

  1. Reuse

This R gives expired items a renewed purpose. Reusing items entails buying second-hand items, such as thrifting, or repurposing things. There are many Do-it-yourself tutorials online on how to repurpose old things. Such methods are not only economical, but it is a stepping stone towards adopting a zero waste lifestyle.

  1. Recycle

Recycling is a convenient and friendlier way to dispose of your items. However, not everything that you place in the recycling bin will get recycled. Recycle only when the above three Rs are unfeasible.

  1. Rot

For biodegradable products, composting them is a viable option for fertilizer. This is cost-effective too as you will be able to save on buying commercial fertilizer if you can compost your own! This is one of the most effective ways of going zero waste, largely because the majority of the average household waste is biodegradable and usually ends up in the trash and subsequently the landfills.


How to adopt a Zero Waste lifestyle 

The idea of adopting a zero waste lifestyle can be overwhelming for the majority. It is only normal to feel this way, given how much resources we have been using for the past couple of years. However, there are a few tips we can share to spur you on this journey to a zero waste lifestyle.

Setting Zero Waste Goals 

Firstly, it is important to know your goals and the reason why you want to achieve them. As American poet Bill Copeland puts it perfectly, "The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score".

You have to know why Zero Waste is important to you - perhaps it is because you want to play a part in helping the planet or because you want your children to live in a clean and green world. Take a few minutes to think about this and note down any reasons that come to you in a small notebook. 

Setting goals will help you to keep your focus on going zero waste intact, and can be especially helpful during moments when your motivation wanes. A goal can be as simple as ‘I will use less single-use plastics when I am out of the house’ or ‘I will grow my own basil to make pesto sauce instead of buying the pre-made ones from the supermarket’.

Have a goal, or a few goals, in mind, and write it down on a piece of paper or a notebook. Keep a journal to note down your action plan and celebrate each success as you inch closer towards your ultimate goal of going zero waste.

Grab a buddy!

The second step after writing down your goals is to find like-minded individuals or groups to share them with. It is always better with friends. Take time to share your goals with friends and work towards them together. You can surround yourself in a community (virtually or physically) consisting of individuals who, too, share the same passion for living sustainability.

Thanks to the connectivity of the internet, many interest groups are emerging on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Zero Waste Heroes! is a Facebook group that hosts about 16,000 members and daily conversations surrounding the topics on tips and tricks on how to live sustainability, recycling tips, and any non-profit events that are happening around each’s community. The group strives to remind everyone that despite your geolocation, you are making a difference. Even if you’re not the chatty personality, being in a community where you are able to read and empathize with the stories of others is a healthy way to work towards adopting a zero waste lifestyle. 

Zero Waste Inside the Home 

All changes start small, and for some, home is where all changes happen and virtually the perfect place to start changing your lifestyle. We have consulted many niche blogs on how to adopt a zero waste lifestyle from home, Zero Waste Home provides us with incredibly practical tips on how we can start adopting a zero waste lifestyle from home. The bread and butter of creating a zero waste lifestyle inside the home is the replacement of disposables to alternatives.

In the kitchen, examples of such are, and not limited to, paper towels to cloth rags, storage plastic Ziplock bags to glass containers and baking paper and aluminium foil to stainless steel trays. In the living room, use more glassware, ceramic dishes, and cloth napkins. Make your own candles by reusing the tins and wick base from your old ones. For the home office, you can reduce paper usage by printing double side and reuse single-side printed paper for your draft work. Not only that, but you can also make changes to your stationery, swapping single-use pencils and pens for refillable writing materials can save you the guilt of throwing used pen frames away. To combine files, use reusable paper clips instead of staples.

A bathroom is a place where there are plenty of opportunities for adopting a zero waste lifestyle. Instead of using a plastic toothbrush, swap it for a bamboo toothbrush alternative. Using a bar soap can help save on unwanted packaging such as plastic containers and wrapping. If you are feeling adventurous, try creating your own toothpaste, this article from News Medical will be sufficient to guide you through the dos and donts of making your own toothpaste. Sponges can be ditched for compostable scrubs or brushes and be sure to check the source of your shampoo and soaps to ensure that they leave fewer carbon footprints compared to normal products, a carbon footprint calculator can be of help.

For those of you with green fingers, there are various ways in which you can adopt a zero waste lifestyle in your backyard garden too! First and foremost, composting plays a huge role in a zero waste lifestyle. As mentioned earlier, rot whatever biodegradable leftovers. There are various guides to help you along, check out a guide to backyard composting by Going Zero Waste, they even provide a pictorial representation of what you can and can’t compost. Food waste accounts for about 45% of an average household’s waste in America, and this is a significant amount. Composting your food waste will help dwindle this number. In a similar vein, you can consider installing rainwater catchments and use the water collected as a water source.

Zero Waste Outside the Home 

Changing your shopping habits can be a way towards a zero waste lifestyle, consider buying only what you really need or thrifting instead of buying brand new items. Streamline what you bring back home, this will ensure fewer unwanted items in the future.

Carrying your own containers and a water bottle out will contribute to the reduction of single-use plastics. Bringing containers for takeout lunches and your own tumbler for your coffee or tea is a small but eco-friendly way of living sustainably.

Consider bringing your own cutlery as well - in recent months there has been a hype over the usage of metal straws, consider getting either stainless steel cutlery or bamboo ones, this way, you can kindly decline any single-use disposables. Buying your tickets online and asking for an electronic version and refusing a print of a receipt whenever you purchase an item can help reduce paper and ink. 

Zero Waste Challenge

After all these tips and tricks, you are now ready to start your very own zero waste challenge! Zero waste challenges are fun social activities with a series of tasks for you and your friends to achieve each day. By participating in various challenges, you can live sustainability with clearer and shared objectives.

There are various zero waste challenges online where you and your friends can participate in the greater community. For example, Going Zero Waste documented their 31-day zero waste challenge in which you can take inspiration from. Remember that every little effort counts.


If you have read through this till the end, congratulations! You are officially made acquainted with the concept of Zero Waste. This is the first step to adopting a zero waste lifestyle!

We hope that this will inspire you to consider taking up this commitment to living lighter on this planet as we join in the efforts to conserve whatever resources we have.

What should you do now? Look out for your local zero waste organization, take a pledge today, and let’s live responsibility!