Zero Waste 101

Ready to begin your zero waste journey? Let's do it. Say NO to trash is where it all begins. Use less. Trust me, you don't need it! And I am going to prove that to you here and now!


Want to go "zero waste?" Start by assessing what you currently use. Do you really NEED to take that plastic bag, plastic fork, paper napkin, packaged food, etc.? NOPE! The first step in living or striving for a zero waste lifestyle is to simply use LESS. Reduce consumption across the board! We (me included!) can all do a better job at living with and using less "stuff."


Then reuse what you already have; upcycle everything. Our society has a STUFF crisis in a world of finite resources that is, sadly, designed for the dump. We cannot shop our way out of this problem, so let's learn to make far better use of what exists already.


Yet in the end, we are all consumers. So when you buy, buy better and buy smarter. Equip yourself with truly sustainable, zero waste tools so that you do NOT have to take pesky, disposable, single-use items. Bring these staples EVERYWHERE. I always (seriously, always) have my mason jar, reusable bag, bamboo utensils, straw, and more IN my purse with me (it's like the Mary Poppins tote!). I come prepared and say NO to plastic at all costs. Yes, I am that crazy who struggles to carry goods, if they cannot fit in my reusable tote – or if I have somehow forgotten it along the way. I will wait to eat food until I have my utensils nearby. I air dry my hands instead of taking a paper towel. I know the tare weights of my jars by heart, so I can refill in the bulk sections without problems. I NEVER ever take straws (hold me to that!). And I always use these opportunities to teach others about WHY I am taking certain actions. These are some of the realities of my zero waste journey... and I love 'em!


Also, be sure to consider the entire life cycle of a product: what happens when you are "done" with any given item? Because "away" is never really "away." Donate things to give them new life! Recycle, if need be; whatever you do, ensure that goods don't end up in landfill. As my friend says, "an end is but a new beginning" and "waste is only waste if it's wasted." Let's work to make sure that is a truth we embody and live by!


Purchase wisely; buy quality that lasts. Stainless steel, glass, wood - these materials are far superior to plastic. One of the reasons I love purchasing vintage (and do so quite often) is because they are well made and have already stood the test of time, whether clothes or furniture or home goods. 




Now, take a look at our Zero Waste challenge from Project Green Challenge for more inspiration and actionable steps to kick start or continue your zero waste journey at a very practical, tangible level...


“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use." ~ Mother Teresa


When was the last time you touched something made of plastic? An hour ago? A minute ago? Every piece of plastic ever created still exists. Plastic may leave your home when you take out the trash but once it’s out of sight, it doesn’t just disappear. All of that trash ends up in landfills, and every year this pile of plastic grows more and more massive. In 2012, 32 million tons of plastic waste ended up in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream; only 9% was actually recovered for recycling in the end, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. And that is only the beginning... EcoWatch has many more startling facts about plastic pollution.


To the average consumer, trash can seem like a fact of life. But you do not have to contribute to our global waste crisis. For the next two days, you will become acquainted with the Zero Waste lifestyle and develop tools to add to your arsenal in your battle against trash.


Zero Waste living involves three main components:


– First, try not to create non-recyclable waste in your daily life. Drink from reusable water bottles like those made by Klean Kanteen! Buy your food at farmer’s markets or in the bulk section of the grocery store. It’s easier (and less expensive) than you might think!


– Choose products that repurpose waste. Think products made from post-consumer recycled waste, as well as upcycled or repurposed items.


– Finally, recycle or repurpose any waste that you must create so it doesn’t end up in a landfill! We’ve all heard the mantra “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.”


Well, here are a few more R’s to add to your life:


– Refuse! Refuse all disposables you can live without.



– Rot! By keeping food waste and other biodegradable materials out of the landfill you can create rich compost that will feed your plants or those on your campus!


– Rethink! What can you do differently to cut down on waste? The options are endless. 5 Gyres has endless information about understanding plastic pollution through exploration, education, and action. Let's learn how to manifest a planet free of plastic pollution!


Take on specific zero waste challenges, if you so desire! The four below are excerpted from our annual Turning Green eco lifestyle challenge each October. Find out more at Project Green Challenge.

Transitioning to a low (or zero) waste lifestyle might seem impossible, but you don’t have to do it alone. Many people are already blazing a zero waste trail, like Lauren at Trash is for Tossers and Bea of Zero Waste Home. Start with small steps – something as simple as eliminating plastic bags, for example, can set you on the path to transform daily life!
Look at the Zero Waste resource page or elsewhere online to find a blog or video about a person that has transitioned to a zero waste lifestyle.
– Share the link to the blog or resource that you found.
– What about this person’s journey or method resonates with you?
– What makes the blog or video so inspiring?
– Tell us three things you learned and will apply to your own life.
Waste is a huge part of our consumer culture. We buy, we consume, we toss. And since landfills are hidden from view, it’s easy to overlook how much waste we produce.
It’s time to get an accurate perspective on waste! For 24 hours, take a bag everywhere you go and put everything you would otherwise dispose of into that bag. Don’t hide it! Carry your bag proudly and welcome conversations with classmates and community members.
– Take a photo of everything you collect!
– Separate the waste into recyclables and non-recyclables (if you can compost, that is GREAT!)
– Brainstorm reusable options for each of your non-recyclable / non-compostable items.
– Share three quotes from people you interacted with during the day.
– Tell us what specific zero waste options you could use in the future.
You’ve learned a lot about your own waste habits and started to conceptualize how to minimize your impact. Here’s your chance to broaden the scope and bring the zero waste mindset to your campus.
Find one practice at your school that creates a significant amount of waste.
– Research the issue. Are other schools doing a better job?
– Brainstorm a Zero Waste solution to this problem, focusing on the details that would allow it to succeed on your campus.
– Interview at least two community members (friends, faculty, staff) on camera (if possible) to discuss the problem.
– Outline your solution for them and tell us (or show us!) how they respond.
Can you form a habit in two weeks? Are you ready to take the plunge and make zero waste a part of your life?
Make a commitment to transition three aspects of your life from a disposable option to a zero waste one. A few ideas:
– Stop drinking bottled water/soda
– Use a reusable coffee cup instead of single-use option
– Cut out all paper and plastic bags Once you’ve settled on three changes, live with them for the next two weeks! At the end, write a blog post about your experience, aiming to make your story an inspiration to others. Make sure to address the following questions:
– Were the changes easier or more difficult than you expected?
– Did you notice any unexpected outcomes?
– Will you keep these new habits now that the challenge is complete?
– Get friends or family to make that commitment with you!

© 2019 by Erin Schrode - About ErinContact

  • Twitter Square
  • Instagram Square
  • Screenshot 2015-10-17 00.54.53
  • LinkedIn Square
  • Pinterest Square
  • YouTube Square
  • images_edited.png