How to Start Living an Eco-Friendly, Zero Waste Lifestyle (From People Who Did It)

by - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

standing on a stone beach

So you have decided you want to take steps toward a greener, lower waste lifestyle?


No really, it is. But now you are kind of at the hardest part- getting started. There are so many paths you could take and switches you can make to make your life have more positive impact and lower waste. The amazing pool of opportunities can be EXTREMELY overwhelming and it may be tempting to just go a million directions at once. Fight the temptation, and check out what these people say were first steps that worked for them.

Want to get started but think you need some support? Check out groups on Facebook to see just how many people are also on this journey- I like Slow, Eco, Simple Minimal Living, Plastic-Free Support GroupEco-Friendly USA Group Page, Zero Waste, Zero Judgement, and Zero-Waste Motherhood.

One Thing at a Time

This one is amazing- take it one month and one challenge at a time!

"I’m someone who will tend to go overboard with research, (particularly as a problem procrastinator and money-poor uni student), try and do everything all at once and then get discouraged when I ultimately fail. To stop myself from doing this, I wrote up a monthly green challenge list. Each month I’d pick a new thing to change (ie 1st month no plastic bags - lead to me forcing myself to creatively carry about 20 items on a train because I forgot the reusable bag initially, or 4th month - swap to naked shampoo, 6th month - shop at the farmers markets etc). Worked really well for me, because I was able to focus hard enough on one thing each month to make it a habit, was able to afford to buy eco friendly stuff and was able to keep up and maintain my passion to change. It also meant that I’d get excited and talk about my new change each month with friends, which convinced some less eco-minded people to try the challenge with me, as one specific challenge to focus on was a lot less overwhelming for them than feeling like everything they were doing was wrong and had to change." - Jade

"I’m relatively new to beginning a plastic reducing lifestyle. I use cloth bags and try not to buy any fruit in plastic. I just weigh at the till loose and not put them in the plastic bags they offer. I use a metal water bottle to refill and reuse glass jars to store food instead of using plastic. I’ve changed to a shampoo bar and have a soap bar on order. I am so much more mindful when I shop. I am also baking more and making my own humous. Change one thing at a time and think of it as a learning journey." - Jo

"It begins with awareness. I watched a documentary on plastic in the ocean on Netflix. Then I read a few books. One thing, one piece of advice that I can give is don't be overwhelmed. Just take it one month at a time, replace one thing at a time. We were already using cloth bags and drinking from steel bottles when I started on my journey, if someone wants to know where to start, I would say start there. Get good at bringing your bags, and your bottles. Always be learning. Have fun, be light hearted about the process." - Sarrah

"I agree with not letting it overwhelm you. I had already been using reusable shopping bags, then I watched a couple of documentaries and War on Waste, and decided I needed to make changes. One of the first things for me was reading into recycling in more depth, understanding what can and can't be recycled, how to do it as well as possible, and which items are most resource-heavy in the recycling process. This led me to an understanding that recycling is a wholly imperfect solution sadly, and that the answer is to reduce my purchasing and usage in the first place. Then I began a mission to remove single use plastic from my life - started with a coffee cup, aluminium straw, wax wraps, steel water bottle, and it gradually grew from there. Getting a composter has really helped reduce our landfill waste massively! And since we're now vegetarian, pretty much all of our food scraps go in the compost." - Emilie

"I started small. With a newborn and a skeptical husband it was difficult. But now we only use reusable grocery bags, I bought a Ecoffee cup, make our own wet wipes (I have convinced my husband to do cloth diapers with our next baby) and cloth pads for me :) I'm in the process of learning to sew so I can make small cloth bags to use for fruits and vegetables at the store " -Christianne

"Think before you consume. My 1st change wash cloth shopping bags, 2nd glass jars for freezing, 3rd bar soap. Little by little it will become routine to look for subsitutes for plastic. My new one, yet to try will be bees wax cloths instead of plastic wrap. Farmers markets, bulk food. I live in Spain, have had my own veggie garden for close to 30 yrs, but last 3-4 yrs every thing just burns due to extreme heat, not really sure how to combat that one" - Carlos

"I think it's a progression. One thing at a time. Don't throw out what you already have. Decide to, for example, not use straws and take your own shopping bags. Can then make or buy reusable produce bags, make own cleaning products etc. Work in progress!" - Linda

"I change one thing at a time. Apart from carrying my own shopping bags that I had been doing for years, I first realised that soap was the easiest thing to change - bars instead of liquid soap in plastic bottles, then shampoo in bars. I gradually worked my way around the bathroom, each time I needed to buy something I queried whether it could be bought without plastic - metal razors instead of disposable, toothpaste in a jar, bamboo toothbrushes and so that is the way I have continued. If I can buy something that contains no plastic that is the best option. Food I buy from local markets, butchers and fishmongers - more paper no plastic. I go into the supermarkets for sauce (in glass bottles) or tinned items. -Teabags (yes they do contain plastic) have been abandoned for loose tea. I also try and spend time writing to various companies - perhaps one letter a week/fortnight, each time I notice something that I find unnecessary and ask them why they are packaged that way and make suggestions for them using cardboard, paper or glass. I feel we must keep the pressure on the big companies so that they change their ways. I always say that I would like a choice as to whether I buy plastic or not and I hope that given the choice customers will do the correct thing and buy the plastic free option." - Lorraine

Cut the Chemicals

"We got rid of air fresheners and candles, got rid of harsh cleaning liquids, and started cleaning up our diet. Right now I'm trying to figure out what to do about my KitchenAid mixer, since I just learned it's full of lead too." - Anja

"I started when my son was a baby and I started reading labels and seeing the terrible chemicals in baby shampoo and wipes. I first changed some of those health and beauty products. Although I ended up getting green washers without knowing it. Thanks to this group (Eco-Friendly USA Group Page, which I LOVE) I learned about truly healthy options. I also learned when my son was putting everything in his mouth when he was a baby that I didn't like all of the made in China cheap toys and started researching quality toys and healthier options. After that, I learned so much more about made in the USA products, healthy and organic foods, cleaning products, etc." - Beth Anne

"I read an article about estrogenic properties of plasticizers about 8 years ago. This influenced me to start taking my own bags to the store and also start a small garden." - Cara

Watch What You Eat

"Mine started with Food. I watched Food Inc and from there over the next 3 years changed Food, water, home products etc. We started with store bought organic meats. Then moved to all our other foods. We now buy local meats. About a year in I started to change out my care etc. Then dishes..cookware etc. Last was clothes, bedding etc. Its never over. Always another way to improve or better options to find" - Rachel

A couple of years ago I discovered that wasn't enough and went vegetarian, reduced my plastic use and this past spring I wrote a paper at uni about the massive environmental problems with cotton and since then I tried to buy second hand, organic and overall reduce my clothing purchases.
In autumn when classes started again I decided to bike the forty minutes to school and have stuck to it almost every single day instead of using the bus.

Noticing the Trash

"Plastic shopping bags first for me.
Then I looked at the amount of rubbish I was throwing out each week. Dropped it by about 90%.
Prob pretty common.
Oh taking a reuse coffee cup where ever I go occurred same time" - Rae

"7 yrs ago i decided to see how long a plastic bottle of dish washing liquid would last . Well, i am still refilling it,i buy large industrial size.The bottle is in perfect condition.Think the idea of plastic pollution hit me when i was scuba diving in Maldivasover 10 yrs ago,The amount of garbage was overwhelming,, we even joked, to take a left at the tube of Colgate. When I came home I started to realise how much plastic we threw out in comparison to other type-we compost" - Carlos

"I bought one of those Verismo coffee makes. Seemed like a good idea at the time 😕 after some weeks of use I started to think what happens to all those little pods..? They can’t be easy to recycle. Then I read somewhere that piles of them were just sitting at recycling depots.. no one really knew what to do with them. So I thought I’d go back to the old fashioned way of making coffee in a press. The coffee I buy in Norwich, taking my own containers, grind the beans at home. The used grounds and tea leaves end up in the allotment." - Ian

Get Resourceful and Supported

"My first step was saving ripped bed sheets to sew up bags for the grocery store. I couldn't bear the thought of throwing them away, so I sewed the easiest thing I could think of- a bag. When I got home from the grocery store with no plastic, I realized that I should be doing it more for more areas in my life. Then I dove in head first to all the information I could find." - Lexi

"I thought I had done enough to reduce plastic pollution, stop using plastic bags and recycled everything I could, I thought it was now down to the big company to change packaging until I came across these groups and found there was a lot more I could do, I just started by changing little things because I was running out of kitchen stuff." - Phillip

"when i started, refusing plastic shopping bags was not as popular as it is now. i would see them thrown out in nature everywhere, and after a few cleanups i started using my scarves às bags when shopping, with a few knots... because i never remembered to cary a bag with me. salespeople would give me funny looks.."

the secret to starting an eco-friendly and zero-waste life from people who have done it

Ok, so who is ready to live a little greener? If you have started down this road, what were your first steps?

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