Zero Waste for Mortals

If you’ve ever watched a video or visited a blog of a zero waster, you know that their lifestyle can often be summed up with a single image of a mason jar filled with trash. Lauren Singer, a zero waster living in New York City, is probably the most famous zero waster in both the blogosphere and the TEDTalk world. Her site, TrashIsForTossers, offers solutions for moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. I’ve been a fan of hers for some time, the way someone is a fan of an elite athlete. I can mimic but in reality I can’t duplicate what she does professionally. So, I think of the little things. What do I waste in a given day? What two things can I cut back on this week? This month?

Zero waste can happen for the rest of us. Still, you can’t go from 6 thousand to zero in no time flat just like you can’t go from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Your tires will burn out or you will get tired. Oh so tired. Here are some solutions for the rest of us.

3 Simple Ideas from Zero Wasters for Mortals

Tip Number 1: Buy Less

Yes, it’s a no brainer. It’s simple, as I’ve said…written…typed…whatever. If you buy less stuff, you won’t have to deal with the packaging and the money and the guilt.

Speaking of guilt, ick, a Columbia University study estimated that “Americans throw out 7 pounds of materials per person every day” which translates to all the way to 2,555 pounds of materials per American per year. Most of our waste is in packaging (food, gifts, household goods).

I mean, still buy stuff…I’m not asking you to become a monk. Just buy less. Does your kid really need more toys than what are provided for at holidays and birthdays? Do you really need to buy the bottle of body wash when a beautiful soap bar will do? How can you make your favorite drink/dessert/meal at home?

Let me offer some excuses for the following situations:


“Sorry kiddo, no stickers. They are bad for the planet and our walls. Do you want to help me make dinner or read one of your library books?”


“I didn’t get your Axe body wash but I did find this manly man bar soap. It smells really nice. Would you give it a try? If you hate it, I can get you your regular stuff. Zero waste, so, that’s nice.”

Friends and Family

“I was going to wrap your gift but I couldn’t wait for your reaction.”

Or, if you put this out there before YOUR birthday and hope that you set a standard, “I’d rather make an appointment to spend some time with you, that will be my present.”

If you feel that any of this is doable and you are on board, hopefully I won’t scare you away by mentioning that you need to have a budget. A budget will put you in control of your money. It is so easy to go and spend spend spend at at the end of the month panic panic panic when you don’t have a budget. My husband and I are smarter now in keeping a budget using the EveryDollar app and you can read about that here.

Tip Number 2: Buy/Borrow/Obtain Used

We were looking for a bicycle for our 5 year old and we could have sped over to Target and gotten her one for $89. Having the money was beside the point. We knew what that bicycle would probably go through in the time she’d be using it. I checked out Facebook Marketplace and found one that day for $30 and the guy let us buy it for $25. Our kid was delighted.

As for me, I’ve made the changeover to buying used clothing for anything I’m replacing. My motto is “one in-one out” to keep the cycle alive. However, I do draw the line for shoes, socks, and underwear.

Another idea is that many libraries have gone progressive enough to move into tool/games/household items loans. My library lends out family games, art passes, language immersion software, adventure backpacks (this is now on my personal summer list), and some tool-type things.

Tip Number 3: Chill the Flip Out

There is an unattainable beauty to be found in a mason jar full of garbage, I know, but we mere mortals have to count of improving incrementally. If you must, try a no-spend weekend and if you are really gung-ho you can have a no spend month. Then if you want, you can live like this guy and buy his book.

My recommendation is to not get carried away just yet. Look in your garbage or make a mental list of the things you throw away on the regular. Can some of it be recycled? What can be used in a different way? Can some of it be composted? Do you really need to buy another of what you just threw away or are you going to crash the cycle?

The zero waste life can be used to help you move through life with less guilt or it can be used as your own sort of purity test where a good person doesn’t produce waste and a bad person does. I recommend the former. Less guilt sounds good to me. After all, even the pros like of Kathryn of Going Zero Waste believe that we shouldn’t try to fit our lives into a jar.

The longer I looked at the jar of trash, I felt like a phony. The trash jar really isn’t an accurate representation of the trash I’ve made at all. Almost anyone who has a trash jar has some sort of exception they don’t put in there whether it be condoms, contacts, broken glass, receipts, etc. It feels like you can justify keeping almost anything out of it. And, when you’re constantly picking and choosing between what goes in the jar and what doesn’t, you get a skewed perspective.


Yes, be kind to the environment but be kind to yourself too.

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