Guiding Principles for Zero Waste


This, to me, is THE most important of the zero waste principles.  If we can stop needless "stuff" from coming into our lives we are better off, not just from a waste perspective, but also from a minimalist perspective.  Decrease clutter and chaos, clear the air and breathe!

To Refuse, is to say no thank you to random brochures that are handed to you on the street.  Say no to placing your purchases in a plastic bag.

Avoid being handed a plastic water bottle by having your own. 

Refuse to allow so much needless waste entering into your life, then you won't have to worry about how to properly dispose of it!  

When you refuse an item offered by a business, you are also sending them a message that the straw, brochure, plastic bag, etc. is not desired.  And the more people that refuse, the more likely that business will be to examine its practices and perhaps reconsider.  Maybe you even tell them, as you politely refuse, that you are trying to avoid plastic, or waste in general.  This will help to make it clear why exactly you are refusing and lend more power to that refusal.  Instead of that waiter or shop-keeper walking away, shaking their head, thinking you're a hippy weirdo, they are likely to consider what you've said, such as "there's already too much plastic in the ocean when I surf" or "the beaches are covered in water bottles already".  


Simplify your life!  Embracing minimalism has been so liberating for our family.  Take a hard look at your closets and cupboards.  Do you need all that stuff?  Can you find a new home for that sweater you never wear?  Or those 20 stuffed animals crowding your daugther out of her bed?

Feeling an urge to go shopping?  Stop.  Slow down and consider if you really NEED that item.  Maybe even give yourself a day or two to think about it while you ask yourself:

1. Do I love it?  Is this an item you can see yourself using on an almost daily basis?  Or will it languish in the closet/cupboard/bathroom unused once its novelty has worn off?

2.  WHY do I want to buy it?  Am I trying to make myself feel better?  Will it bring me long-term happiness or mostly just happiness in this moment?  Have I carefully consider this item and the value it will bring to my life?

3.  Where will it be kept?

4.  How often will I use it?

5.  Do I own something similar already?  Could I use that instead?

I bet, if you start asking yourself these questions for most items you are tempted to buy that you will end up walking away empty-handed.  And if you do....go buy an experience with the money you saved!  (Ride a roller coaster, lick an icecream cone, mini golf, or save up for a trip!)

Or, think of it this way, every penny you save today is less time you have to work tomorrow.  If you haven't discovered Mr. Money Mustache to guide you through your finances, then I HIGHLY recommend as (though he hasn't realized it yet), his philosophy IS zero waste.  


Find new uses for old items such as a worn out sheet or that favorite T that has a stain.  Turn them into rags, dryer sheets, doggie bath towels or donate them to your local animal shelter!

Buy second-hand.  Another man's trash is one man's treasure!  


What?  Where did that 6th R come from?  Well, the more we've been practicing these principles, the more we began to see that repairing your broken items is incredibly helpful to reducing your waste.   While traveling, we have found ourselves reaching for the needle and thread...a lot!

Blew out a flip flop?  Sew it back together! 

Hole in your rash guard?  Where's the needle and thread?

Sole of your shoe coming off?  Hand me the glue.  

Repairing items has helped us to extend their life much longer than they would have otherwise survived.  Now, one could argue that you should be investing in items that last and don't fall apart, right?  Yes, however, when you also embrace the principle of buying used items, you may find that they have already received a little more wear and tear.  You may also just be getting a whole lot of use out of your belongings, especially the fewer you have. And don't even get me started about wearing the same clothes again and again while traveling.  While packing as minimally as possible for our travels, we have prioritized always keeping a needle and thread on hand (hemostats help for those shoe repairs too). 

And did you know that shoe cobblers who can repair your shoes still exist?  I owned the same pair of Dansko clogs for over 15 years and took them to a cobbler in San Francisco....twice!  Look for your local shoe repair guru and keep your shoes on the road a little longer!


If we could recycle everything wouldn't that just solve all of our waste issues?  The answer to that is NO!  Recycling is actually a very energy intensive process that is wasteful in and of itself.  If you are looking to "go zero waste", then your focus should also be on reducing the amount of recycling you produce.  

Did you know that, until recently, the US exported nearly a third of its recycling and that about half of that went to China?  Talk about carbon footprint!  But as of January 1st, China began limiting the waste it would take due to too much contamination in the recyclables they were receiving from the US.  In other words, there were too many non-recyclables mixed in and many were dirty, making their recycling process hazardous.  

So what can you do?  Look for products that are unpackaged-shop bulk and buy at your local farmers market by loading your items into your bulk bags or totes.  Nothing to recycle! 

Must buy a new item?  Can you compost or reuse the packaging?  If the answer is no, then ask I really NEED this?


COMPOST!!!!!  I personally think that it is almost impossible to be zero waste without finding a way to compost.  One of the first things we did when we started taking on zero waste at home, was get rid of our plastic trash bags and the only way this was possible was by ensuring that our wet and smelly food scraps were not going into the trash.  Having chickens also helped with taking care of our food waste.  Cluck, cluck.  

There are a ton of great articles out there on how to start composting if you are a newbie.  I've set up a Pinterest board with helpful links to sites about setting up your own compost, what to compost and what not to compost, etc. I plan to write a detailed post about composting once we get back home!  Followed by getting started with a home chicken coop!!

Here's a quickie breakdown of how to compost for now:

  • Cut out the bottom of a trash can with a tight-fitting lid

  • Find a spot in your yard that receives a small to moderate amount of sunshine (this help to "cook" your compost a little faster than if it's in a dark and shady area)

  • Bury the bottom portion of your trash can about 10-12 inches into the soil (the deeper it is, the more likely it will keep rodents out)

  • Begin throwing your scraps in. Consult this list for the Dos and Don't of what to compost.

  • If it smells then it's too wet and you can add dry leaves, grass clippings, straw or strips of newspaper

  • Once your can is full, just put the lid on and ignore it!

  • Get a second trash can and start filling that. By the time one is full the next should be a nice rich compost for you to add to your garden.

No way you can compost in your living situation?  Find a friend, school, or garden shop.  Put out an ad on Craigslist!  Don't give up, there are lots of resources out there!


Any tips or tricks you've found helpful to sticking to these zero waste principles?