Transition to zero waste with these 10 basic steps

 1. Eat fresh produce

Eat mostly fresh produce and skip the plastic bag. Pick veggies and fruits without packaging and just put them in the cart or bring a small cotton bag with you. If you have to weigh the produce yourself then put the sticker gently on one of the pieces of produce. The regional and seasonal produce are usually without the plastic wrapping and if the bio stuff is wrapped in plastic, it might mean that it travelled from far away, so there you go.

If most of the produce is already wrapped in plastic at the shop you usually go to, consider other shops or, even better, markets. Don’t worry about being the only one that does not use plastic bags and that throws a bunch of mushrooms in her basket and returns the box for reuse at the market. No one is gonna hate you if you do something differently. Smile to people, wear a cute hat, fake a French accent if you think it might help.


2. Compost

If you eat mostly fruit and veggies you might have a lot of waste that you could compost. There are many alternatives on how to compost, even if you do not have a garden or a balcony. Some people use a vermicompost in the flat, while others store compostable stuff in the fridge and bring it to the farmers’ market afterwards. I store my compost in the flat in a covered bin and I take a walk with it weekly to the composting place nearby. If people stare at you, smile and be proud of your peels. Are you wearing your cute hat? Figure out funny things to say to the kids that ask why you are carrying this stuff with you.

3. Invest

Zero waste is all about finding better alternatives to disposables. Take your time to figure out what you need and slowly invest into things like cotton bags, mason jars, stainless steel lunch boxes, towels for the kitchen, handkerchiefs, wooden brushes and so on. This might bring a lot of aesthetic to your life and people will compliment you on your cherry tomato salad in a mason jar. This is the perfect time to mention you do not use social media or that you own an analogue camera (which you now sold because the film cannot be recycled). Check this tips for simple swaps.


4. Bulk

Explore your options for buying dry goods in bulk or in a less wasteful way (like paper packaging or food in bigger amounts). Are there any bottles that you can return for a refill? If you live in Germany, these might include certain fruit juices, milk, creme, yoghurt, apple cider vinegar, beer and some soft drinks. Try to buy food like olives, cheese and meat at the counter. If you do not find these in bulk, you can buy butter and yeast wrapped in a paper that can be composted (usually found in bio stores).

It might take you some time to find bulk locations nearby, but do not worry, there is always more options than you think. Find a way to share bulk locations with others.

zero waste shopping

5. Rethink

If your waste reduction methods hit a plateau, it is time to rethink your habits. Reduce your consumption to the essential foods you believe you need in order to feel your best. Consider giving up the not-so-good habits, like snacking junk food or ordering pizza. Zero waste is easier if you eat healthy food, opt for a plant-based diet and are prepared to buy seasonal and regional food. While buying unpackaged food might cost more because of the higher quality or a more responsible source of the food, there are other ways to reduce your costs by giving up on what you do not need or is not that good for you in the first place.

Take your time, because eating habits are an emotional thing. Don’t push yourself until you actually feel like you enjoy eating types of snacks usually reserved for birds, hedgehogs and vegans.

6. Zero waste on the road

To make less trash on the road, think in advance. Pack your lunch and snacks, take a reusable water bottle, have some cotton bags in case you buy something, a handkerchief, and a cup if you are taking a coffee to go. Become a zero waste scout, always prepared to have a waste-free snack, nose blowing, coffee spilling accident or a quick shopping opportunity. Say no to straws in a bar and refuse free stuff like flyers.

zero waste on the go

7. Grooming

Think about what is essential for you to feel good in your skin. Forget about all sort of stuff you thought you need and simplify by using a bar of soap to clean yourself and natural oil to moisturise. Get excited about how glamorous it feels to use pure bio oil on your skin and get all nerdy about it. Invest into a menstrual cup, a safety razor and a bamboo toothbrush. When you run out of something, check for DIY recipes online and be amazed that you can do literally everything by yourself. Have all sorts of failed experiments at the most inappropriate times.

Mention what you are doing to your grandma and she will tell you what kind of stuff they were using in between the war. After awhile the commercial stuff will start to smell way too strong and you will laugh about all the tampons you will never need to buy again.

8. Get busy in the kitchen

I used to think feminists don’t make jam at home. I was full of prejudice back then. It is absolutely great to make all of your meals from scratch. Become a master of making spreads and sauces or baking desserts. If someone’s birthday comes by just empty your pantry. Consider canning food and growing some stuff, like herbs, yourself. It is never too early to start gardening, even if you live in a small flat in Berlin. All of the sudden you will have so much to talk about with your grandma. You might end up eating healthier, spending less money and learning a couple of new skills on the way. While you are at it, learn how to prevent food waste.


9. Clean

Clean your place old-school style. Toxic products pollute water and come in suspiciously bright colours. Try to use lemon, white vinegar, baking soda and natural soap bars instead. Don’t forget on wooden brushes, microfiber and cotton cloths. There are plenty of DIY recipes online to try and opportunities to be weird. Collect chestnuts and make a clothes detergent with it. It will blow your mind when you realise it works. Think about all sort of fictive situations when this kind of knowledge might come in handy.


10. Observe

Observe the waste you are still making and reflect on what else you could eliminate, one step at the time. Learn to be patient and do not try to control anyone else’s behaviour. Major life skills right there! Do tell people about what you are doing, so that they do not bring waste into your home. Learn to recycle properly in regards to where you live. Remind yourself that it does not make you a bad person if you choose a simpler way instead of the idealistic one. Develop a strong attitude and do not fear your way of life to be questioned, criticised or misunderstood. You are spreading the idea you believe in and being a part of the change that goes beyond your trash can.

This post has also appeared on Medium.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. says:

    This year my relatives received gifts to help them transition to a zero waste life.

  2. Are water filters really necessary? I don’t even know exactly what they’re filtering, and whether they’re taking out too many good minerals along with the supposed bad stuff they’re removing. Already we know they are engineered to leave the flouride in which is a dubious benefit so … I am 50/50 on filtering the water I get in my house. Anyone have thoughts on that?

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