Zero-waste living: A guide to help you live more sustainably

Zero-waste living is a lifestyle that has been gaining popularity in recent years because we’re all becoming more aware of the impact our actions have on the environment.

People regularly come into Shop Zero wanting to know more about zero-waste living and if there’s a “right” way to do it. While I know that many of you reading this blog have embraced living more sustainably for a while now, today’s blog is for those of you just starting out on this journey.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What is zero-waste living?

The idea behind zero-waste living is to reduce the amount of waste that we produce (individually and collectively) by reusing, refilling, repurposing, recycling, and composting as much as possible.

We have our own hierarchy of waste at Shop Zero: Refuse/rethinkReduceReuseRefillReloveRegiftRotRepair and Recycle.

This approach not only helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills but also conserves natural resources and reduces pollution. This is a vital shift because we’re stripping the planet of its resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished. Plus, landfill waste is responsible for approximately 11% of global methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change.

Nature offers us the solution

The concept of zero waste looks to nature for its template.

In a natural system, the by-products of one process are used in another process, and nothing goes to waste. For example, the leaves that fall from trees in the autumn are decomposed by bacteria and fungi in the soil, providing nutrients for the tree to grow new leaves in the spring. This cycle continues endlessly, with each component of the ecosystem playing a role in the process.

Photo by hp koch on Unsplash

Unfortunately, the human-made systems that we have developed are linear rather than circular. They follow a take-use-discard model that produces a lot of waste.

This is particularly the case when we consume products that are designed to be discarded after one use, such as plastic bags, food packaging, and disposable utensils. This waste often ends up in landfills or the ocean, where it can take hundreds of years to decompose and can cause harm to wildlife and ecosystems.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

By adopting a zero-waste lifestyle, you can help to send a clear message to businesses and brands that they need to behave more ethically and adopt processes conducive to a circular economy.

In this way, it’s a call to redesign the systems we live by and to bring us back into closer alignment with the natural world.

Common questions about zero-waste living

You probably have questions about how to live more sustainably. If you haven’t found it already, you might want to check out our FAQs page for some pointers. If you can’t see what you’re looking for, do let me know so I can help (and add your question to the page to help other people too).

For now, you might be wondering, is it necessary – or, indeed, possible – to go 100% zero waste?

The short answer is no. Not entirely.

But don’t let that put you off!

Currently, it isn’t possible to avoid creating waste in every circumstance (for example, prescription medication is often packaged in plastic). However, zero waste still represents a vision for a way of living that is more ethical, economical and efficient. If we can approach everything from the perspective of wanting to reduce our waste and prolong the lifespan of an item, then zero waste has a vital role to play.

My take is that you don’t have to be perfect. Every small change that you make can have a big impact on the environment and contributes to a much larger movement of change.

Small changes such as composting food waste contribute to zero-waste living
Photo by Lenka Dzurendova on Unsplash

What are some easy ways to reduce waste?

This question comes up a lot. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to reduce waste. My favourites are:

  1. Bring reusable bags: Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bags that end up in landfills.
  2. Use a refillable water bottle: Invest in a refillable water bottle and fill it up instead of buying bottled water, which creates unnecessary plastic waste.
  3. Use a reusable coffee cup: Bring your own reusable coffee cup to your local coffee shop to reduce the number of disposable cups that are thrown away each day.
  4. Buy in bulk: Buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging waste generated from individual items.
  5. Compost food waste: Start a compost bin or use a community composting scheme to turn food scraps into nutrient-rich soil.
  6. Say no to single-use plastic cutlery: Refuse single-use plastic cutlery when eating out. If you need cutlery, bring your own from home.
  7. Use reusable food containers: Bring your own reusable food containers when getting a takeaway or packing lunch to avoid single-use plastic packaging.
  8. Use cloth napkins: Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins to reduce paper waste.
  9. Donate unwanted items: Donate unwanted clothes, books, and other items to charity instead of throwing them away. This helps reduce the amount of waste in landfills while also helping others in need.
  10. Buy second-hand: Consider buying second-hand items instead of new ones. This can help reduce the demand for new products, slashing the amount of resources and energy needed to produce them. Plus, buying second-hand is often more affordable and can be a fun way to find unique items with character.

Can zero-waste living save you money?

Yes, zero-waste living can save you money – in fact, I wrote a blog about this recently that’s full of tips!

By buying products designed to be reused, you can reduce the amount of money you spend on disposable products. For example, investing in a reusable water bottle and coffee cup can save you money over time by eliminating the need to buy single-use plastic bottles and paper cups.

And when you refill old containers, you save money because you’re paying for the product, not the packaging it comes in.

Shifting your mindset

We’ve all been conditioned to some degree to buy into the idea that we need more “stuff” to be happy and successful.

Zero-waste living encourages a shift in mindset. It asks us to rethink what we really need and to aim for a more circular life that reflects the model given to us by the natural world.

What if we stopped looking at things as rubbish to discard and started seeing them as valuable resources? This is what zero-waste asks of us.

By reducing the amount of waste that we produce, we can conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, protect ecosystems, and safeguard all life on Earth.

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