16 Ways to Lead a Zero Waste Life

With just 111 possessions and an adventurer’s heart, Rob Greenfield is on a mission to create a “happier, healthier existence for all humans, creatures, and plants.”

The simplicity evangelist, who is a blogger, the author of Dude Making a Difference, and the subject of a reality TV program, lives a near zero waste lifestyle. While the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash per day, Greenfield generates less than two pounds of trash per month. Last year he flew to Brazil with a goal of making his way to Panama—with no money and just a small backpack of essentials. His adventures are documented in the reality series Free Ride. For his latest project, Trash Me, he's consuming like an average American and wearing every piece of trash he creates.

For 30 days, Rob Greenfield is consuming like an average American and wearing every piece of trash he creates.

To inspire others to take action, Greenfield offers the following 16 tips for living a near zero waste life:

1. Reduce: A zero waste lifestyle is as much of a mindset as it is practical actions. In fact, transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle begins with a change of mindset. The most important word in this lifestyle is reduce. By reducing your needs, you will automatically see a huge drop in the amount of trash you are creating.

2. Reuse: Always think reuse. How can you use something again rather than disposing of it? Try not to just reuse something once or twice, instead think reuse forever! Repurpose fits right into reuse as well. For example, if you find an old dresser that someone’s throwing out and you’re in need of a raised garden bed to grow some food, just lay it in your yard, fill it up with soil, and get planting!

3. Recycle: Once you’ve exhausted your options with reduce and reuse, then lastly recycle. Even though recycling doesn’t end up in your garbage can, it’s important to minimize this too since recycling is a resource intensive process.

4. Repair: Rather than tossing out those ripped pants or the toaster with a stuck lever, just repair them! Sew up a rip in your clothes, get your shoes resoled, patch your bike tubes, and bring your electronics into a repair shop.

5. Refuse: When someone passes you don't need, say no. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean that you need it, so turn down the freebies if you don’t actually need it.

6. CompostFood waste makes up a big chunk of most people’s trash cans. By composting, you’ll be able to reduce your trash a lot. You can compost in small spaces, at your community garden or a vacant lot if you don’t have space at home.

7. Say no to one-time use items: There is a waste free alternative for any one-time use items you may currently be using.

8. Buy unpackaged food: Find a store nearby with a bulk section. That way you can bring your own containers and fill up on bulk items like rice, pasta, nuts, seeds, cereal, flour, sugar, etc. Buy fruits and veggies that are unpackaged as well. You can make a lot of this easier by growing your own food or shopping at the farmers market.

9. Bring your own: Leave your house prepared for the day so that you don’t have to fall into making trash. Carry a reusable water bottle to use if you’re ordering a drink to go or to avoid using bottled water. Bring your own dishes and utensils if you’re eating at a restaurant that uses disposable items or if you’re going to a party with trashy options. Bring your own bags or boxes to the store. If you like straws, you can bring your own bamboo or steel straw to the party or the bar.

10. Refill: Join the refill revolution and refill anything that comes in a bottle. You can refill laundry detergent, dish or hand soap, personal body care items, household cleaning products, and so much more. Find a local co-op or bulk store in your area where you can do this.

11. Make it yourself: The more stuff you make for yourself, the less trash you will create. For example, you can make your own toothpaste, body moisturizer, laundry detergent, cleaning products, and much more. The list could go on for days.

12. Buy used: New purchases come with lots of packaging. When you buy things used, there's no packaging and you're not stimulating extra resource use by buying new. Buying things used on Craigslist or thrift stores is a great way to avoid this form of waste. You can also trade with your neighbors and friends for the stuff you need.

13. Buy quality stuff: Repairing is important to zero waste, but you can prevent having to repair your stuff by buying quality products in the first place. It’s worth spending the little bit of extra money to get something that will last.

14. Take care of your stuff: This is actually the most challenging aspect of zero waste living for me, but taking care of your stuff will help you to create a lot less trash. Simply do your best to make your stuff last longer by using it correctly and taking good care of it.

15. Be grateful: Rather than feeling like you always need the newest stuff and trying to “keep up with the Joneses” just be grateful for what you have.

16. Monitor your trash: This one really should come first because if you don’t know what trash you are creating then how are you ever going to stop making it?

Bonus: This is a great list, but it's missing an important piece of advice -- share as much as possible! Find or create a Library of Things, a tool library, or timebank to share your goods and labor. Check out our collection of sharing how to guides for many more ways to share. Or just make a habit of sharing with your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers whenever it makes sense. 

For more tips, resources and inspiration, visit robgreenfield.tv.

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