Zero Waste Ideas: 50+ Easy Ways to Fight Climate Change
Over the Thanksgiving table, we talked more about the climate than we did about gratitude. It's not that I'm not grateful (a gratitude practice is part of my self care habits) as much as that climate change has my attention -- helped along by the Black Friday climate change report the administration hoped to hide behind all those doorbusters. It's easy to feel hopeless when major news like that comes out. The effects of climate change are so massive, whether that's more of California burning or the slow starvation of polar bears, that the default reaction of most people I know is "I can't do anything about that."
And while it's true that large-scale climate action is needed, that does not mean that individual actions don't matter.
We can all act to conserve resources, reduce waste, and protect the planet.We don't have to install solar panels or buy electric cars either. Big actions are great, but small actions matter and they're approachable no matter your budget.
I know small actions matter because I've experienced their impact in my life.
The place where I saw the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time is composting.
When I lived in San Francisco, we had municipal compost in addition to recycling. By throwing away all compostable food scraps and recycling what we could, we produced less than one full bag of trash per week.
Now I compost in the backyard, using a tumbler, with similar results. And since I've got a massive front-yard garden, that compost is back in use.
Over the last few years I've transitioned from using paper towels while dining to cloth napkins. Sure, napkins are pricey but most were gifted (thanks mom!) and the rest picked up at yard sales and places like Marshalls. That breaks down to about four fewer rolls of paper towels per year by making one zero waste switch.
Start with one change, maybe two, and always use up what you've already bought rather than throw it away in the name of going zero waste.
You'll be less likely to encounter resistance (internal, financial, or plain old forgetting) when you are only thinking about making one zero waste swap. Once you're no longer thinking about the first change because it's become habit, add something else.
Get inspired by this room by room roundup of 50+ ways to reduce waste.
Bathroom Zero Waste Ideas
1. Install low-flow faucets and shower heads to curb water waste
2. Use refillable travel bottles for toiletries instead of buying travel-sized products (which are packed in plastic)
3. Buy bulk shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel instead of single-size toiletries - natural foods stores often have bulk bath and beauty products
4. Ditch the cotton balls and switch to reusable cotton pads
5. Replace plastic toothbrushes with bamboo and compost at the end of life
6. Compost toilet paper rolls
7. Use a tray of hankies instead of a box of tissues
8. Pick up mineral sunblock, which is free of chemicals like oxybenzone, to support ocean health
9. Use bar soap for hand washing - make your own or support local soap makers who don't use plastic packaging
10. Make your own bathroom cleaning products and use rags rather than sponges (my cleaning rags are made from cut-up old workout tees)
Kitchen Zero Waste Ideas
1. Put reusable bags in your car, bag, purse - so you always have one for unplanned grocery runs
2. Save and reuse plastic produce bags on your next grocery run - this made huge difference for me when we started it
3. Get reusable cotton produce sacks - the polyester ones are still plastic so they're not an eco choice
4. Compost all veggie scraps
5. Save meat bones and veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer to make meat or veggie stocks - I put onion peels, garlic peels, carrot tops, corn cobs and herb stalks in in stock bag then make and freeze stock when the bag is full
6. Switch from K-cups to literally any other coffee solution - I use a pour-over and compost the filter and grounds, but a French press is another zero waste alternative
7. Brew loose tea instead of individually packaged bagged tea
8. Swap the plastic-wrapped dishwasher pods for dishwashing powder packaged in cardboard
9. Skip the plastic wrap and use foil (which can be rewashed, reused, and recycled), glass, or or other containers
10. Use small containers or reusable bags instead of snack bags (my favorite are LunchSkins)
11. Refill old spice jars with bulk spices to reduce glass and plastic waste
12. Run sponges through the dishwasher to reuse or switch to washable dishcloths for hand washing dishes
13. Buy bread from local bakeries and store in Bees Wrap or reused bread bag
Entertaining and Parties Zero Waste Ideas
1. Mix and match cloth napkins (yard/estate sales are great sources of fun napkins) instead of cocktail napkins
2. Make simple snacks instead of buying bagged items - pop your own popcorn, roast your own nuts and top with spice blends
3. Use a pitcher or beverage dispenser for homemade iced tea or infused water rather than buying single-serve beverages
4. Save and reuse wrapping paper, tissue paper, and gift bags
6. Gift items that reduce waste (bamboo toothbrushes or homemade soap as stocking stuffers ;) )
6. Skip plastic decor in favor of reusable items, compostable, or edibles - cut pine branches, gather wildflowers, or buy items you can reuse every year
7. Watch documentaries and share what you learned in conversations with friends or coworkers - this one inspired us to buy the reusable product bags
8. Host a doc viewing party to raise awareness in your community
9. Host a clothing swap and donate any leftover items to charity
10. Talk about climate, the environment, or going green - it's surprising how often you can weave it into a conversation -- and who knows who you could influence by sharing your zero waste tips
Outside the House Zero Waste Ideas
1. Bring your own to-go containers for leftovers when you dine out
2. Refuse straws with beverages and plastic bags with leftovers or purchases
3. Bundle errands together to reduce your driving miles
4. Make your next car an electric vehicle - it’s actually cheaper than you think (you can get all the tax breaks just by leasing) and you skip oil changes, maintenance, and fill-ups
5. Walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit
6. Take a reusable water bottle ALWAYS
7. Pick up trash or recycling in the neighborhood (I’ve made this part of my daily dog walks)
8. Recycle plastic bags, batteries, and lightbulbs - many big box stores, including Home Depot and Target, have recycling stations for these things.
9. Carry a reusable coffee mug with you when you go to a cafe
10. Have receipts emailed to you, rather than printed
General Zero Waste Ideas
1. Get things fixed instead of automatically buying new - RepairCafe is a great local solution for repairing items
2. Repurpose worn items rather than throwing them away - tee shirts into rags, old socks into dog toys, etc.
3. Ask around before you buy something you won’t use often - chances are a friend has an air mattress you can borrow before your host guests
4. Bring old sheets, towels, and newspaper to animal shelters - they use it for bedding
5. Have shoes re-soled instead of buying a new pair
6. Learn to sew on buttons so you can make simple clothing repairs yourself
7. Donate old technology (phone shops often have donation buckets for domestic violence victims, but you can also find ways to donate old laptops, camera, etc)
8. Use CatalogChoice to end unwanted catalogs and direct mailings
9. Buy items that are packaged in paper instead of plastic
10. Ask yourself twice before you buy something - so often, shopping delivers an emotional hit - do you really need another piece of clothing?
What changes have you made to conserve resources? Share your favorite strategies.