A Vegan’s Beginner Guide To A Zero Waste Lifestyle!

zero waste lifestyle

Getting Started On The Zero Waste Lifestyle.

The first stage of implementation is difficult, but also unique and exciting.

You’ll go out of your comfort zone, and repeat a specific behavior until that behavior finally sticks.

Don’t worry, I’ll guide you through it.

Let’s start with a few things you can do to better set up routines and make the transition to a zero-waste lifestyle smoother.

Building Connections In A Community

Why should you foster relationships in a community? When integrated into a community, it’s much easier to meet your zero waste goals. A big part of reducing waste comes from us making clever decisions. To make those decisions possible, we need local businesses to cooperate with us.

For example, if you bring a cloth bag for your vegetables, a local market should allow you to have a tare imprinted on your bags so that the cost of the vegetables doesn’t include the weight of the cloth bag. For those getting meat, they should be able to bring their stainless steel recipient and not have the butcher place the meat in plastic bags.

The biggest benefit of building these connections is so that your purchase requests can be accommodated time and time again. This also includes asking the staff in your favorite restaurant to place leftovers in a container. Or ask your favorite coffee shop to pour coffee into your pink reusable drink container.

We want to work hard to avoid throwaway packaging… and creating solid relationships within your community will allow you to do that.

Even if that means giving local businesses a call, and understand how you can work together to avoid waste. You will find that smaller businesses are often open to your requests… especially if it means having a returning customer.

Ignore The Naysayers

When you go against the norm, you are bound to find people that will criticize your choices and label you as a weirdo. This is why I’m telling you right now: embrace discomfort.

That’s the ultimate advice for those following a different path from the majority.

Most people won’t bother to understand even if you lay out the facts very clearly. In most cases, you will have to take the high road, and ignore any ill comments directed against you.

Or you can do it like me, and take pleasure in knowing the planet is being spared from additional garbage.

Be Prepared On The Go

Don’t let yourself end up in a situation where picking up a disposable plate is unavoidable.

Whether you’re going to work or travel to a new country, always make sure you have an urgency kit to avoid waste creation.

Having a bag with the following items in your car is pretty useful:

  • Tupperware containers.
  • One set of silverware.
  • Glass straw
  • Cloth napkin
  • Travel mug for coffee (or something else)
  • Water bottle
  • Washcloth

These items are useful in a scenario where you must eat and drink.

1st Step – Refuse Things You Don’t Need.

Plastic bags
Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

Alright, the easiest way to prevent yourself from making more waste, is by actually keeping it from entering your house. Whenever you go outside, always think first before buying or accepting anything.  I live in a small, touristy city, and each time I head down to the high-street, people are handing out flyers. If I were to accept every flyer, I would just be adding those to my trash can, and create needless waste.

It’s important to learn how to say ‘no”, and evaluate the importance of what you’re buying or accepting. Believe it or not, some people have a hard time saying no, and that leads to more waste and problems. If it makes you feel better, explain why you won’t accept the flyer, and tell them you want to avoid creating further waste by adopting this “new”, zero-waste lifestyle.

Saying “no” may come easy when it comes to strangers. But what about the people you care about? I’ve also struggled with this question, and it all boils down to being honest. Make them aware of your new lifestyle by showing them that you’re trying to avoid waste at all costs. If you create awareness, your family or friends will know what to gift you.

Here are other things you can refuse using:

  • Single-use plastics (Use a reusable cup in your visit to Starbucks);
  • Freebies (Toiletries, food samples, swag bags from festivals or conferences, and more);
  • Junk Mail (Avoid it by leaving a note on your mailbox);
  • And more.

It’s difficult to refute conveniency, but I think you can do it!

Rethink Your Shopping Habits

More important than avoiding the waste that steems from external circumstances is dealing with your whims. I have a very addictive personality, and thus it’s easy to get mesmerized with something and buy it. Telling yourself “no” is the actual challenge, and to rethink your shopping habits, means asking yourself questions:

  • Do you need it?
  • Will you need it one month from now?
  • Do you have something similar?
  • Can you use anything else?
  • Can you use it at least three times?

Ask those questions, and take a moment to let your mind relax before making any decisions. Actually, sleep on it before making a decision. If you decide to buy something, then make sure to avoid packaging to create the least waste possible. Look for products that don’t have packaging like bar soap, food from bulk bins, and so on.

2nd Step – Reduce Things You Need.

Some things you can refuse, because ultimately you don’t need them. However, the things you need are more complicated to bypass. That’s why the goal here is to reduce. By reducing, you have more mental clarity because there’s less clutter. And the impact you have on the environment can be as significant as avoiding single-use plastics, for instance.

If you’re familiar with minimalism, you know what reduction means. It’s focusing on quality over quantity and taking in an “experience” over just owning “fluff”. It’s thinking small, instead of swimming in luxury. Reduction encourages you to be more mindful about the things you need which help you rediscover your purpose.

Look at your waste audit, and let go of the things you think you need. For example, instead of getting a salad picker, you can use a fork and spoon to achieve the same goal. Ultimately, if you keep asking questions you’ll find more items you don’t need and even consider donating or selling old utensils, clothes, or electronics instead of eventually sending them to the landfill.

Reducing Shopping Activity

Another big element of waste reduction lies in restraining yourself when you shop. When you decide to NOT shop as frequently, you’re conserving precious resources and making old resources available to others.

Here are other things you can consider as well:

  • Buy foods in bulk, and use your recipients;
  • Ride a bicycle instead of driving a car to work;
  • Rent or buy a smaller house;
  • Use less technology, or stop constantly upgrading to the “new thing”;
  • Avoid printing paper and keep it digital;
  • And more.

Besides buying less, you should also shop wisely by choosing products you can reuse or recycle.

Another advice you can follow is to reduce potential waste by avoiding actions that lead to consumption. Watching TV, reading magazines, window shopping, or scrolling down through your Facebook feed can lead you to view heavily promoted content designed to exploit your emotions in exchange for your desire to buy something. Believe it or not, it’s effective the more you see it. Especially if it’s something you have bought in the past and love.

Controlling your exposure to social media (and other channels) will not only promote waste reduction but also increase your happiness. How? Marketing messages tend to explore people’s pain points, and thus exposing you to negative messages.

While you cannot always control it, reducing your exposure to those mediums helps you navigate through life with a clearer mind.

3rd Step – Reuse What You Need.

thrift store
The image corresponds to a thrift store.

Reusing means using the product in its original manufactured form several times. It’s maximizing a product’s life and saving the resources otherwise lost through recycling. You might have reused plastic bags in the past, but alternatives like tote bags are superior. At the same time, you must “reduce” their consumption, and figure out how many you need, otherwise you’re just overusing resources for extra bags you’ll never use.

That’s right, in the 3rd step, you’re also addressing wasteful consumption by using products you can re-use, and eliminate the need for packaging or single-use products. For example, using reusable bags eliminates the need for packaging, and bringing your reusable cup to Starbucks reduces the need for additional plastic or paper cups. Besides, you can also consider lending your products. Many items you have in your house stay unused for days, if not months.

Through borrowing, loaning, trading, or renting you can maximize usage and even make a profit. Thrift shops, Craigslist, eBay, and even Amazon are popular among those following a zero-waste lifestyle. There you can buy used products, and not waste resources to create new ones.

In addition, you can look for products you know can be repaired or repurposed at the end of their lifecycle.

List of Basic Reusables

Tote BagsRags
KindleKitchen Towels
JarsGlass Straws
BottlesCloth Napkins
Cloth BagsHandkerchiefs
Insulated CupsRechargeable Batteries

4th Step – Recycle What You Cannot Reuse.

Recycling is what most people do to reduce waste, but earlier in this blog post, we discovered that sometimes it’s not the best option. Besides, not everything can be recycled properly. Plastic straws are too thin to be recycled, and thus petitions are held to ban its production and bring awareness to reusable straws.

As you know, recycling is but a small part of effectively reducing waste. The most significant steps happen outside your house by curbing consumption, which eliminates a lot of the recycling you have to do.

While recycling is also an important step in this guide, it’s not the most sustainable form of waste reduction because many elements are at play. There needs to be a combined effort between consumers, manufacturers, recyclers, and municipalities that leads to further resources being used to convert plastic and transform it into a brand-new product.

Instead, if you work through these steps in order, you can dramatically reduce the need for recycling. This may not be an interesting approach for industries earning their share via recycled materials. But recycling something like plastic is not as viable as people think. Some plastics that get recycled (namely Polyethylene terephthalate & High-density polyethylene) are downcycled and still end up in the landfill.

Does That Mean We Shouldn’t Recycle?

No, you should. Recycling is still a better option than simply sending something to the landfill.

It saves energy, resources, and diverts further waste from getting sent to the landfill. Plus, it creates a demand for recovered materials, which empowers the economy in the long-run.

Also, it allows you to make better buying decisions based on the things you believe are most recyclable. When you buy a new product, you must consider one that is reusable and useful when its lifecycle is over. Ultimately, we want to use materials that can be recycled over and over (paper, aluminum or glass) and avoid downcycled materials like plastic.

5th Step – Composting At Home.

composting

Composting is the process of recycling organic waste by allowing it to naturally decompose over time.

You’re recycling waste that would otherwise go to the landfill, where its decomposition would be hindered by the lack of oxygen and sunlight, which would lead to further water and air contamination.

The most common composting system is a worm bin. You feed worms with organic waste, and then the worms transform that organic waste into nutrient-rich properties that can be reused or returned to the soil. Usually what you get after the decomposing process is rich soil, which you can use to grow your houseplants or sell for a profit.

This being said, there are a few things you must take into consideration before composting:

  • Do you have a yard? Do you live in an apartment? The composting system you adopt in the future depends on the type of space you live in. No point in owning a big bucket of worms if you live in a small apartment.
  • Depending on your goals (selling compost, or simply recycling organic waste), you may want to either set up a free composting system with homemade materials or buy a commercially available one.
  • If you care of aesthetics, you should make it so that your composting system blends well with your decoration.
  • Most composting systems process veggies, fruits, and other common sources of waste like coffee grounds. But if you want to decompose toothbrushes made from bamboo, you may want to consider more advanced devices.
  • If you’re vegan, a simple composting system will do it since you will not be decomposing bones from meat. However, if you have omnivore guests who bring their food (i.e: meat), don’t throw their food into the composting system. Otherwise, you may attract rodents, foxes and other furry animals to your yard.

I’m not an expert in composting systems but I know that the most obvious difference between each lies in the temperature. Lower temperature systems take longer to decompose, which is what you will have if yours is homemade.

Most People Start Composting in The Kitchen.

Before you start composting, you must first gather compostable materials. It’s easy to set up a system in your kitchen so that you can start collecting those right away.

Here are some of the things you need to get started:

  1. Large container: Getting a large container reduces the number of times you need to go to your compost system. Most people use regular trash bins to collect their compostable materials, but sometimes forget that mixing organic waste with non-biodegradable waste will only make your composter smell bad. That’s something you might want to avoid.
  2. Blending in: While it’s hard to hide a large container from sight, you should do your best to blend it in with the rest of the house. Sometimes what keeps people from composting is the fact it looks ugly… and because it smells. This said, if you keep it hidden under a counter and don’t mix organic waste with non-biodegradable stuff… you should have no worries.
  3. Make it easy to access: Sometimes we might feel too lazy to separate biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. In that case, keep your containers close by. Some people have a slide-out container under their kitchen sink for each time they throw away food remains.

At the same time, make sure the compost system can compost the things you’re planning to compost.

Building A Simple Compost System.

I believe it’s easier to watch a video than actually follow a written tutorial on how to build a compost system. For that reason, I’ve included this video by Huw Richards, because he actually makes it really simple for anyone to understand.

Once you’ve built your compost system, then it’s a rinse and repeat process that will allow you to minimize waste. But remember, going zero-waste takes time. It might take you months or years until you’re able to do everything efficiently. And you don’t have to everything perfectly at first. If you do things step by step, then before you know it, you’ll have made massive progress in your zero-waste journey!

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About the Author: Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than three years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!