The American population makes up only about 5 percent of the world’s population. But we produce 30 percent of the world’s garbage.
Why do we make so much trash?
I’ve realized that most of us do not even think about our trash. We shove it into our trash bins and ship it off where it is out of sight and out of mind. We don’t consider how wasteful our country is because we aren’t faced with the sight of our trash.
The thing about all this waste is…it’s not even hard to make less. When we aren’t thinking about how much trash we are making, we also aren’t thinking about what it would be like to make less. Sure, it’s easy to put a sandwich in a ziploc bag, but is it that much harder to put it in a container and wash the container later?
Living a low-waste lifestyle comes with some sacrifices, but overall it is much simpler than I thought it would be. I’ve broken the transition process into a simple 5 step plan to help you get started on your own low waste lifestyle.
Step 1: Decide to start a low waste lifestyle, and decide what that means.
This step might seem obvious, but it does require some thought.
First, you have to consider the reasons that you are starting a low waste lifestyle. This helps you commit strongly to the lifestyle and keeps you on track when you start to lose interest. If you have committed to the lifestyle for reasons that feel important to you, then reminding yourself of those reasons often will keep you motivated.
For me, learning about the accumulation of trash in the ocean was the deciding factor that made me start this lifestyle, and reminding myself of the wildlife affected by our garbage encourages me to keep going when I begin to lose interest.
Everyone has different reasons for choosing a low waste lifestyle, whether it’s health, money, happiness, or the environmental impact, all that matters is that the reasons are important to you.
Next, you need to decide what “low-waste” means to you. Does it mean “a little less than I make now”? Does it mean “as close to none as I can possibly manage”? You have to decide how much trash you are ok with generating so you can set realistic goals for yourself. Personally, I was more of a “let me start this journey and see how much I can cut down” kind of girl. At that point, I had only followed zero-waste bloggers, so I didn’t really have an understanding for what a “low-waste lifestyle” looked like. I hope that my blog helps people understand what a low-waste lifestyle looks like and realize that it’s easy to live somewhere between 4 pounds a day and zero.
Step 2: Asses your trash.
You have to know what you are throwing away to determine how to reduce it.
If 60% of your trash is food waste then you know you have to buy less food and eat your leftovers. Alternatively, if you throw out little food waste, then you can focus your efforts elsewhere.
If it helps, make a list of what you are throwing away the most so you can develop a plan on how to reduce each thing on the list.
It’s important to understand where your battles lie so you know what advice to heed and what advice doesn’t really apply to you.
Step 3: Start with simple swaps.
The WasteLessThinking shop makes it really easy for you to start off. Just replace one disposable item with a resuable item. A water bottle, for example, is a great place to start because it can make a big impact. Find a reusable bottle that works for you and stop purchasing disposable plastic bottles.
A compostable toothbrush is another great idea for a first purchase because it won’t feel any different. You’re still brushing your teeth the same way, just with compostable materials.
My first purchase was a set of reusable travel mugs. No more disposable Starbucks coffee cups for me.
Having a house supplied with the right materials makes a low-waste lifestyle much simpler and eliminates the need to think about how much waste you are creating.
Step 4: Cut down on your buying.
An absolutely crucial part of a low waste lifestyle is cutting down on how much you buy.
That means food, clothing, beauty products, home goods, cleaning supplies, makeup and everything else. Reducing how much waste leaves your home begins with reducing how much comes into your home.
As somewhat of a shopaholic, I imagined that this step would be difficult for me. But this has actually been the most addicting behavior change. There is something so liberating about having less stuff.
Many people talk about about how amazing it feels to have an organized life with a manageable amount of things. Science proves that less clutter is better for your mental health and is linked to lower stress and increased happiness.
Even if this step scares you, try it. Try only buying things that you absolutely need. Aim for buying half the amount of food that you normally would at the grocery store and finishing all of it before you go back.
I promise, it will not only decrease your waste, it will improve your life.
Step 5: Pick lifestyle/behavior changes that you can manage.
A low waste lifestyle is not only about buying reusable items and calling it a day. Well, depending on your Step 1 assessment, I guess you technically could stop there. But if you want to take it a step further, you should learn about low waste lifestyle changes and adopt the ones that make sense for you.
I’m talking about composting, zero-waste grocery shopping, growing your own food, making homemade beauty products, bringing your own containers to restaurants with you, and so on.
These are the things that scare most people when they think about living a low-waste lifestyle. Which is why it’s best if you pick lifestyle changes that make sense for you.
For example, I am a mega girly-girl and recovering makeup addict. Cutting down on my makeup and beauty product purchases and sticking to a simple routine was really difficult for me. But doing so reduced my product and packaging waste significantly. Making my own beauty products at home is not something that I can see myself doing right now, and because I have already made huge progress in that area, it’s something that isn’t necessary right now.
You should make the same assessments of your own life and decide where you are willing to put more effort to make changes and where you are not.
This lifestyle is only sustainable if it makes sense for you. Keep your goals reasonable and tailored to other parts of your life.
If you have to drive 10 miles to the closest compost drop-off you probably won’t be able to stick with that behavior very long, so maybe that’s not the best place to start. However, if there are a lot of farmer’s markets and bulk grocery stores near you, it should be easy for you to buy some glass jars and reusable bags and be a zero-waste grocery shopper.
A lasting low-waste lifestyle is one that doesn’t take over your life, but one that enhances it.
Because this process is a continuous one, the unofficial Step 6 is to return to the top and repeat. There is always room for improvement when it comes to reducing waste, so keep pushing yourself to do more.
One day I will start making homemade beauty products, and one day you will conquer your greatest beast also.