20+ Easy Tips for A Zero Waste Lifestyle

By Arwa Lodhi

We’ve long admired the glamorous ‘zero waste‘ home guru and blogger, Bea Johnson, who lives by five simple rules that fuel her zero waste lifestyle:

  1. Refuse what you do not need
  2. Reduce what you do need; reconsider just how much stuff you actually need
  3. Reuse by repurposing stuff, or by using reusable objects like metal straws
  4. Recycle  what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse
  5. Rot (compost) the rest

Even though she strictly abides by these 5R’s, Ms Johnson still has a classically wonderful wardrobe and a delightfully decorated (and de-cluttered) home, proving that zero waste living doesn’t mean depriving yourself of living well.

But unless we dedicate a lot of time to thinking about the issue, as Bea does, or live in an ecologically-planned development like Masdar City, pictured above, how can we all apply these zero waste lifestyle rules in practical ways to our own lives?

Well, it’s actually quite simple, especially if you have a bit of creativity combined with a lot of motivation.

Based on Ms Johnson’s principles, here are some easy tips for a zero waste lifestyle that anyone can implement – including you – right now.

20 Awesome Tips for A Zero Waste Lifestyle

Zero Waste Lifestyle tips

1. Refuse

1. Fight fashion. What’s new and trendy is ultimately what’s tomorrow’s waste. Eluxe advocates a chic, slow fashion lifestyle, a la francaise, where gorgeous classics are never out of style, and can even be passed down through the generations. 1970 vintage Birkin bag, anyone?

2. Friend just have a baby? Or have you? Why buy new clothes when used from a charity will do? Remember: Kids don’t care about fashion; babies even less so. They outgrow them in months, so why bother with new when they just be given away to charity within a few weeks anyway?

3. Estate agents, retailers and supermarkets just love to stuff your mailbox with free publications that no one ever reads. And think of how many there are: 100 glossy pages x everyone in your neighbourhood=a lot of dead trees! Make sure you have a No JUNK MAIL OR FREE PUBLICATIONS sign outside your door.

4. If you still find yourself receiving junk, call the ad company sending out the flyers and ask them directly to stop. Find out where you can register with your post office to receive less: try registering at  dmachoice.org,  optoutprescreen.com  or  catalogchoice.org.  And speaking of magazines, why buy paper ones when they’re just as pretty on line?

5. Think about everyday objects you use that are wasteful, and refuse them. Paper wrapped plastic straws? Takeaway cups? Individual condiment, sugar, salt and pepper packages? Plastic bags? Plastic forks, knives, spoons, or chopsticks, usually individually wrapped? Um, no thanks!

6. The most important zero waste lifestyle tip is to refuse the crazy packaging of stuff we use every day: food. While things like strawberries may need some form of a container, why must it be plastic? and if you’re buying bananas, do they really need to be in a plastic bag? At the grocery store, there’s no need to plastic-bag single items of produce: just stick the price sticker (if you need one) on the produce itself.

7. You go to a shop to buy underwear. They wrap it up in tissue, put a sticker on it, and place it in a bag. That’s a lot of wrapping for something you could essentially put in your handbag. Just say no to superfluous packaging!

8. Tired of receiving gifts you’ll never use? For your next birthday or Christmas, why not gently refuse material gifts–ask friends and family to donate money to a charity you love instead of spending it on yet another unsuitable item that you’ll either return or rubbish. And if you still want to be a bit spoiled, why not ask for a service, like a massage or an experience like ziplining instead?

9. Speaking of parties, refuse to use single use party crap like balloons, bunting, plastic cups, plastic plates, etc. There are plenty of sustainable options you can use instead, like reusable bamboo plates, cups and straws, and you can decorate with natural plants, flowers or recyclable paper decorations instead.

Tips for A Zero Waste Lifestyle

2. Reduce

10. Get a coffee or tea outside your home every day? Bring your own thermos or reusable cup to reduce waste. Forgot it? Go ‘European’ and stay in to drink your beverage from a ceramic cup rather than a wasteful paper one. On that note, make sure the staff at the cafe always give you a proper cup if you’re staying in: we’ve noticed they tend to dump drinks in paper cups, regardless!

11. Bring a shopping list with you each time you visit the supermarket, and stick with it. You’re less likely to buy on impulse, thus superfluous purchases are reduced, and money is saved too!

12. Declutter your home and donate what you really don’t use to a local charity. The less that’s in your home, the more you think about what really matters, and what’s really useful. You’ll find living with less is calming, and makes more financial sense, too!

13. Instead of buying a TV, iPod dock, radio, etc for each member of your household, revive the concept of the family room and keep one electronic item  in a communal space. It will bring the family closer together for more shared entertainment experiences!

14. Instead of going to a regular supermarket and purchasing fruit, crackers, spices etc in packaging, bulk buy food items in reusable baggies and store them in Mason jars.

Tips for A Zero Waste Lifestyle

3. Reuse

15. Are any of your clothes totally unwearable, or even unpresentable for charity donations? Rip them up and clean the house with the rags.

16. Ditch anything disposable, such as plastic bottles, Q-Tips, cotton pads, plastic bags and paper napkins. Instead, use washable, cloth or glass alternatives you can use time and again. This will ultimately also save you money.

17. Received a gift with beautiful packaging? Keep paper, envelopes and bows and wrap the next item you give someone with them. Also try to carefully open any delivery envelopes or boxes you get when you order stuff online and save them to use when you need to send something.

18. Ditch Kleenex tissues for good and buy an old fashioned set of hankies instead! (Did you know they actually cut down virgin forests to make most of those tissues you literally throw away after one use!?)

Tips for A Zero Waste Lifestyle

4. Recycle

19. Got some amazing clothes that you just never seem to wear? Stylish bags that just aren’t your style? Jewellery that’s been sitting in the jewelbox untouched, for ages? Why not throw a style swap party, inviting all your chicest friends over to exchange all their best, but unused, clothing and accessories?

20. Or better yet, make money from those old clothes and accessories! Click here to see how.

21. If you’ve got loads of jewellery that you never wear because it’s out of style or you don’t like it anymore, take it to a jeweller to get it reset. Makes perfect sense – especially if we’re talking about recycling valuable gems and metals!

22. Ensure you have the proper bins for recycling paper, tinfoil and tins, plastic and glass, and call your local council to see how you can recycle furniture, white goods, electronic waste and batteries–never just dump any of those in a bin!

5. Repurpose

21. Get creative with your unwanted stuff. ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ as the saying goes, and if you have any creative flair whatsoever, this is even more true. Eluxe is full of ideas for up-cycling what could be considered rubbish: tree trunks become side tables, old Mason jars become cocktail shakers, cracked tea cups and saucers get turned upside down and glued to become cake stands, and so on.

22.  Re-styling old clothes is easier than you think: love the pattern on that dress, but find the hemline is a bit frumpy? Cut it into a top. Jeans horrendously torn at the knees? Snip and voila: new denim shorts. And if you’re no good at sewing, you can always pay a tailor to make a few changes for you. But if you are handy with a pair of scissors, the sky’s the limit: an old leather jacket could be refashioned into an iPad holder; knackered plush toys become a comfy chair for kids (as pictured below).

Got any zero waste lifestyle tips? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Main image: Masdar City

Chere Di Boscio

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