Zero Waste For Beginners

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OK, so you have heard about the zero waste movement, and you want to become a part of it.

First of all, congratulations, it is a brilliant move and here is why:

  • You are going to be healthier from now on. (fewer chemicals in your system) 
  • You are living in harmony with the planet.
  • You create less to no waste, which shows that you are a caring person. 
  • You know there are going to be people living here after you are long gone.
  • Your life just got a whole lot simpler.
  • You will spend less money and be happier with your purchase.
  • You will support local businesses.
  • You buy quality products over quantity.
  • You will eat healthier.
  • You’ll be doing your part to preserve the planet for future generations.
  • Your efforts will help beautify natural areas and decrease littering.
  • You will reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals and artificial colors and sweeteners.
  • You’ll become more self-sufficient.

But where to start? What to buy? What to throw away?
Let’s get into the nitty and gritty bits of zero waste for beginners.

Questions over questions. Don’t worry. We are here to help you answer some of them. Oh and if yours didn’t get answered, just put it in the comments section or email us at [email protected] and we make sure to solve it.

Let’s get to know you

zero waste for beginners

Firstly I want to make sure we understand each other. It feels like the zero waste movement has caught a lot of attention in the news lately, especially in connection to the oceans. We have all seen the pictures of birds with their stomachs full of plastic, littered beaches, and turtles or even dolphins caught in disregarded fishing gear — no need to point this out anymore. We know we have made a big fucking mess.

Do you think we clean it all up?

I have my doubts, but that shouldn’t stop us from changing to healthier habits such as living zero waste. But don’t just go out and shop for all the new cool gadgets that are zero waste. 

Check if you can reuse some of the items you already have. For instance, I just made my old backpack, that I used when commuting with my motorbike, into my zero waste day pack.

And for god sake be patient with yourself, this isn’t going to change from one night to another. The worst you can do is trying to change it all in one go and then get overwhelmed and quit. We don’t want that.

Here is what’s in my zero waste kit.:

zero waste for beginners
  • See if you have forks in your kitchen drawer and I am guessing you do. Take two of them and chuck them in your backpack.  
  • First zero waste item ticked off. ✔︎
  • Do you have a Leatherman or an Opinel knife? Add it to your backpack.
  • What about a reusable bottle? A glass bottle might do the trick if you don’t want to spend $30 – $100 on a fancy bottle. Yep, the LARQ bottle is $100, but hey it’s self-cleaning.
  • Yes, my sunnies are made from plastic, but that’s ok, we can’t avoid plastic anymore and rather than throwing them away just to buy a pair made from bamboo, or something else makes no sense.

You see, zero waste for beginners comes with some challenges, but they are all achievable in time.

You can start cheap and easy with these items. The idea is not to fall into the trap of yet another hype. Which we all hope that this zero waste hype is going to stay for good, but let’s learn more to become aware of daily habits.

Take your coffee habit, for example. Yes, the KeepCup is around $30 and, well, now you have to remember to bring a cup with you every time. Its also made from glass so if you throw it carelessly into your backpack, it might break. Perhaps taking the extra 20-30 minutes out of your busy day and enjoying the coffee at the cafe might do the trick?

Or if you don’t have the time to do that you can opt-in for a stainless steel cup. 

Don’t get me started on those ubiquitous coffee pod machines. These plastic pods go straight to landfill, no one bothers to peel of the aluminum and take out the coffee to recycle. 10 billion of those cups were sold in 2014

RELATED: Are Coffee Cups Recyclable?

Now once you are ready to really commit because you want to save the turtles and let’s be a bit selfish here, you want to put fewer chemicals into your body, then I have these following tips for you:

Zero Waste Essentials

When you are traveling or on the go:

Alternatives to plastic bottles

Reusable Water bottle

are coffee cups recyclable

Reusable Coffee Cup

Why a reusable bottle?

  • Worldwide we buy 1.000.000 bottles a minute
  • That’s 20.000 per second
  • Less then 50 % is collected for recycling
  • 7% is made into new bottles
  • They leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals into your drink

Why a reusable coffee cup?

  • Disposable paper cups contain 5% polyurethane plastic, making composting and recycling of disposable cups extremely rare
  • Half a trillion disposable cups are manufactured annually around the world; that’s over 70 disposable cups for every person on the planet.
  • It is estimated Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year.
  • here is an alternative

stainless steel tiffin

Stainless steel Food container

zero waste for beginners

Tote bag

Why a stainless steel food container?

  • Most plastic used in the world today is for single-use items.
  • Consumer waste has increased more than tenfold over the 20th century, from 40kg to 560kg of waste per person, per year.
  • There are 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world 
  • Every piece of plastic made over the last century is still present somewhere on our planet.

Why a tote bag?

  • About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That’s nearly 2 million every minute.
  • Plastic bags are often confused as food for wildlife
  • They break down into Microplastic like any plastic
  • They sink to the bottom of the ocean floor

Related: The Dangers of plastic food containers

zero waste for beginners

Stainless steel straw

zero waste for beginners

Multi-tool

Why Straws?

Why Multi-Tools?

  • This one is in here because ever since my wife gave me a Leatherman, I have been using it almost daily. It is such a handy device
  • It is made of quality steel.
  • It is a device for every zerowasteman out there.

To me, the Leatherman is my daily companion, and I wanted to add it to my essential list because it helps me every day to make my life easier and well it is made from steel and lasts forever.

Many quality products may not have the #zerowaste, but essentially that’s what they are.

Remember it’s mainly about buying less and when you buy, choose quality over quantity.

Isn’t it nice to get something of emotional value handed down after it has been used for years by a close friend or family member? The item becomes so much more valuable, and you are going to look after it much more.

I feel this is a big problem in our society, we have been so accustomed to having disposable items. Use it and then throw it away. This is also called a linear economy.

This is what my zero waste kit looks like:

Zero Waste Kitchen

zero waste for beginners

Cotton Towels

zero waste for beginners

Stovetop Coffee Maker

Why Cotton Towels?

  • 4 billion trees, or 35% of the total trees chopped down, are used in paper industries
  • 1 tonne of paper consumes 98 tonnes of resources in manufacture.
  • Globally, we consume nearly 300 million tonnes of paper each year; most made from virgin pulp.
  • 70% of the world’s paper comes from diminishing forests, not from plantations or recycling

Why Stovetop Coffee?

  • Disposable paper cups contain 5% polyurethane plastic, making composting and recycling of disposable cups extremely rare
  • Half a trillion disposable cups are manufactured annually around the world; that’s over 70 disposable cups for every person on the planet.
  • It is estimated Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year. That’s approximately 2,700,000 paper coffee cups thrown out every 
  • Very little recycled paper is used to make disposable cups due to health risk concerns.
zero waste for beginners

Tea Strainer

zero waste for beginners

Beeswax Wrap

Why Tea Strainers?

  • Some bags have a heat-sealable thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene as a component fiber on the inner tea bag surface, and other bags are made from nylon.
  • Paper tea bags are commonly sealed using polypropylene.
  • The Tea pyramid bags are made from nylon which leach phthalates into your tea.

Why Beeswax Wraps?

  • Plastic wrap contributes to the larger plastic pollution crisis, it’s difficult to recycle, and it’s made from potentially harmful chemicals, especially as they break down in the environment. ~ national geographic
  • When it ends up in landfill or incinerators, it releases a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. 
  • Wrapping your food with plastic is a health concern
  • Heating your food with plastic wraps leaches chemicals into your food
  • Beeswax wraps allow your food to breathe
  • it creates a natural barrier like the peel of an orange
zero waste for beginners

Cast Iron Pan

zero waste for beginners

Composting

Why cast iron pans?

  • Teflon pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene
  • Non-stick coating can flake off and be ingested
  • perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, which is a suspected carcinogen is still used in some cheaper brands
  • Teflon toxicity causes polymer fume fever, a temporary, intense, though not very serious influenza-like syndrome

Why composting?

  • Less food waste in landfills, where it can’t break down properly due to its anaerobe nature.
  • Great for your plants – soil health, nutritious
  • Adds to the creation of new, nutrient-rich soil.
  • Reduction in overall greenhouse emissions.
  • Composting betters overall air quality.
  • Fertilizes and deters garden pests.
  • FoodCycler for small Apartments – Bokashi composting
zero waste for beginners

Dish brush

zero waste for beginners

Steel Kettle

Why Dishbrushes?

  • It’s basically a big toothbrush
  • it adds to landfill
  • it is a biodegradable option for you and the planet

Why a Steel Kettle?

  • We know that all plastics leach chemicals
  • especially harmful when in contact with boiling water
  • to avoid drinking water mixed with chemicals boil it in a steel or glass kettle.

Some additional tips for cleaning your home.

Most of the time, we are being sold cleaning products for all sorts of different uses. You need a product for your windows, you need a different product for your stove, and you need another one just to wipe the kitchen counter. Well turns out most of these can be replaced by one single product. Drumroll here; White Wine Vinegar.

I know you probably hoped for something a bit more exciting than vinegar, but that’s it. If you check out Lauren Singers Trash is for tossers Blog, you’ll find that she loves the simple vinegar cleaning method.

Here is the recipe:

  1. fill a spray bottle halfway with water
  2. top up with distilled white wine vinegar
  3. (Optional) Add some essential oil drops 15-20

Happy Cleaning.

Zero Waste Bathroom

I guess I am a bit of a minimalist, but I think most men are when it comes to the bathroom. We usually don’t spend a lot of time in them unless we have an excellent book to read.

Perhaps one of the coolest items which I just happen to build was the squatty potty. If you have never heard of this, go ahead and watch this hilarious YouTube Ad.

Apart from healthy squatting and not using your toilet as a magic bin, here are some easy zero waste bathroom swaps that may help to go zero waste in your bathroom:

zero waste for beginners

Double Edge Razor

zero waste for beginners

Bamboo Cotton swaps

Why Double-Edged-Razors?

  •  two billion plastic razors are thrown away each year
  • only 9% of plastic is being recycled
  • by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea ( by weight)
  • they are a beautiful sustainable alternative
  • gender neutral
  • fully recyclable

Why Cotton Swabs?

  • some are made from plastic and slip through the recycling machines
  • just like straws, they are too small for collection
  • you can actually avoid them completely since the ear cleans itself
zero waste for beginners

Bamboo Toothbrush

zero waste for beginners

Toothpaste Tabs

Why Bamboo Toothbrushes?

  • they are a non-recyclable item and just clog up our landfill
  • bamboo is a sustainable plant
  • although most bristles on your bamboo toothbrush are not biodegradable
  • you are still much better off with bamboo

Why Toothpaste Tabs?

  • Toothpaste tubes are again made from plastic and hard to recycle
  • you can make your own toothpaste
  • you can buy toothpaste tabs
  • you can buy toothpaste in glass jars.
zero waste for beginners

Silk Floss

zero waste for beginners

Shampoo Bar

Why Silk Floss?

  • Every year our empty containers alone would fill a landfill the size of a football field that’s 6 stories high—just for the empty floss dispensers!
  • Floss is generally made from nylon
  • Best zero waste option is silk floss
  • Grinding plastic thread between your teeth, you are witnessing the creation of microplastic. 
  • You will swallow some and spit some in the ocean.
  • It is too small for the waste management system to catch.
  • The containers are made from polypropylene and often go straight to landfill.

Why Shampoo Bars?

  • Shampoo bars are package-free
  • Shampoo bars are very concentrated and will outlast two or three bottles
  • Shampoo bars are great for travel
  • Shampoo bars offer a low carbon footprint
  • They are multi-purpose.
zero waste for beginners
this is what I have in my bathroom

Zero Waste Office

How much time do you spend in your office? Does it look like an inviting workplace where you actually want to spend 8 hours of your day? I reckon the best part here is to declutter. If you have a clean desk, you can think more clearly and get more done. Since I am moving around a lot and this week I find my desk in Ottawa, but next week I’ll be in Montreal, I keep it very minimalistic.

My latest purchase was a fountain pen, but they only become a zero waste item when you use them with a refillable ink cartridge. Now, why would you go through all this hustle? Almost every time I return with blue fingers after my refill. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong?

If you work in an office, this will look a little bit different. 

Related: Zero Waste Office | 31 days to zero waste challenge

zero waste for beginners

Fountain Pen

zero waste for beginners

Recycled Paper

Why a Fountain Pen?

  • 2 billion pens are manufactured in the US each year. And apparently, 1.6 billion are thrown away each year. 
  • The most famous one, the Bic Cristal, sells 14 million per day.

Why Recycled Paper?

  • 4 billion trees, or 35% of the total trees chopped down, are used in paper industries
  • 1 tonne of paper consumes 98 tonnes of resources in manufacture.
  • Globally, we consume nearly 300 million tonnes of paper each year; most made from virgin pulp.
  • 70% of the world’s paper comes from diminishing forests, not from plantations or recycling.

Zero Waste clothes

Do you like shopping for clothes? I can’t think of anything more boring than shopping for clothes. But, the problem with the clothing industry deserves a whole new article. If it’s not already enough to do now, you want me to change my wardrobe as well? 

Ok, let’s just take it this way. You don’t have to change your wardrobe for me because, hey let’s face it, you are probably wearing clothes right now unless you are reading this in a Jacuzzi.

You don’t necessarily have to change your wardrobe here, for next time when you need some clothes considered to go second-hand shopping.

Related: Second-hand clothes shopping online

The 5 Rs

All you need to do is be creative with what you already have we’re so accustomed to throwing everything away and just buying it used since it’s so cheap but if you really invest little bit of money into quality products not only are they more enjoyable the Beautiful the handmaid most of the time and then just add to the quality of your life and to you as a human being. 

Since I’m being German, I was used to hearing, huh, that is where the good quality is from. it kind of made me proud even though I didn’t really add to the hole industry in Germany, in fact, I escaped Germany after a while, but that doesn’t mean, but it is still nice to see made in Germany on items because it represents quality, not quantity it means something is made to last for a long time and if it breaks most of the time you can fix it stop

So be creative with the 5 RS reduce reuse recycle refuse and rot.

Related: The 5 Rs.

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle
  • Refuse
  • Rot

All in all, you see it’s not rocket science and in most cases if you talk to your grandma or grandpa that’s how they used to do things anyway. Sure we have a couple of more gadgets added to our busy lives but going zero waste requires not that much after all. Sure the list here looks long but the beauty about all these items is, that they are going to last a lifetime and you are contributing to a circular economy instead of a linear one. 

Picture

I hope you got some inspiration for your home/life, and I can’t wait to hear your ideas and thoughts on this. So, please if you got nothing better to do than sitting in front of a screen, you might as well leave me a comment here and tell me what ideas you have to save the planet or your home, or just become totally zero wasted ?.

18 thoughts on “Zero Waste For Beginners”

  1. Thank you Hendrik, for this great post. I like your layout on your website. This is a problem with a lot of people living primarily in America as we are taught at an early age to consume and waste in stead of responsibly use and save. With things like paper plates and disposable everything we think we are being cautious of the environment but we are just adding to the problem. I like how you have everything lined out in easy step by step processes to follow. Again thank you for the content and keep it up! 

  2. Thanks! I appreciate what you said about, be patient with yourself. It’s better to make changes slowly and steadily, instead of rushing then getting overwhelmed then crashing. 

    So when did you get into the Zero Waste movement? 

    What are phthalates and how do you avoid getting them in your tea?

    Did you ever try a squotty potty and does it work better? 

    Thanks!

    • Hi C, I have started my zero waste journey about a year ago. And to this day I am not 100% zero waste. I think it is impossible unless you live in a cave :). However, it is essential to use less single-use plastic since it benefits us for a couple of minutes and then stays in nature and potentially kills for years to come. Plus all plastic leaches chemicals, which we absorb. 

      Phthalate is a chemical compound, used to make PVC. You find them in packaging, food containers, pipes, but also cosmetic products and even your rubber ducky in the bathtub. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which are linked to fertility problems, obesity, breast cancer, liver damage the list goes on. Dr. Shanna Swan from the Univesity of Rochester can tell you even more.

      Although I am not trying to advertise for the squatty potty itself, unless if it would be made from recycled materials. I think it is a much healthier way to poop. A little meditation seat does the same trick or a couple of books. My motto is to prevent now then try and fix it later. 

  3. The rate at which dirty that contains many plastic and nylon materials are disposed into the earth of the sea or river are defastating and annoying .I also want to join the zero waste group. Henceforth, I will make sure I checked everything things I used both at home and in the office. I will make sure they are all biodegradable and it should be nature friendly. For he plastic materials I have, I will make sure I take it to where they can be recycled. With that, I will be very happy that I contributed to the peace and health of the environment. Hope am able to adopt zero waste method with this habit?

  4. A very nice post. Thank you for sharing it with us. I totally agree that we have made a huge mess. To fix it all up, it might take a long, long, long time, but at least we can from now on change our habits.

  5. Thank you for the very informational and thoughtful post Hendrik. I’ve traveled to a lot of countries where plastic waste has washed up on to the beach and it is just devastating to see. The sheer volume of it is astounding. The tips you have suggested for becoming zero waste are very attainable and inexpensive. I like that you propose just doing a little bit at a time so that the task isn’t so overwhelming! I will definitely be starting with more eco-friendly options for cotton swabs!

    • That is excellent news, Jessica, I am glad I could inspire you a little. It is quite amazing to see what difference we can make from just refusing straws or having a reusable bottle. I love mine, and I take it everywhere I go. You can even use it for self-defense, haha.

  6. Hi, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I do practice some zero waste and try to add as I go along. I like the idea of a zero-based pack to contain and take with you some necessary plus useful items rather than consumerize everything you use and purchase in a given day. I have changed how I purchase food and try to buy at markets where I don’t need or get plastics. That can be a huge change. I live in an apartment and have been trying to do more homesteading kind of stuff like using jars, cooking from scratch and being simplistic in my approach to life. It is always a new lesson.
    Thanks for all the good information and reminders

  7. Very informative post, I really like the way you have enunciated various Zero Waste Products. You have some great suggestion, I am definitely going to look at Shampoo Bars and bamboo toothbrush. Plastic is definitely a huge concern, as you quoted “By 2050 we will have more plastic in the sea that fish” – This is staggering and worrisome, It is the responsibility of us citizens to ensure we save this planet for our future generations. I really wish this post reaches to each individual and makes them realize that there is a sense of responsibility they have towards planet earth.

  8. Thanks for such a great range of information! I currently recycle as much as I can, reuse plastic bags, try to purchase loose vegetables, avoid plastic bottles, compost, save electricity, and do I notice I reasonably can. I could do more, though, especially when possible in the future.

    There are some really interesting ideas on here, and it’s easy to see how some of these are closely related to health – my passion! I used to know that paper was a major cause of deforestation, but never realised that it contributes to over 1/3 of the problem!

    You’re doing some great work, keep it up and keep encouraging others 🙂
    James

    • Thank you so much, James, fellow zerowasteman 🙂 When I first learned about the dangers of plastic, I couldn’t believe that we still wrap our food in this product. So glad we have plenty of alternatives. We only have to spread the message.

  9. Hi Hendrik, thank you for such an important subject that you are covering here. I have to agree that the way how people worldwide use plastics are going out of hand. Later or sooner people will have to switch only to zero waste. It is our liability to do so. Unfortunately, some big companies and corporations not much supporting that as it goes against their business, but I think it will anyway happen. Your post is very helpful for people!

    • Thanks, Elmar. Yeah, the big Coca Cola, which is the number one polluter out in the world. They could go back to glass bottles and use a refund system like in Germany. I know change is happening, but it needs to happen now! Thanks for your support!

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