A Beginner’s Guide to Building a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

A Beginner’s Guide to Building a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

By Rebecca Ramsdale

Rebecca Ramsdale is a Project Manager at Verdical Group. She is a TRUE Zero Waste Advisor and LEED AP BD+C and serves as the USGBC-Long Beach Vice-Chair and a member of the LF-LA Steering Committee.

I’m not a fan of taking out the trash—and who is? It’s smelly, grungy, and wasteful. My disposal method includes a harmonized, squeamish routine of plugging my nose, lifting the dumpster lid with my pinky finger, and “throwing it away.”

“Away”… where is “away”…?

“Away” is a landfill where it will take decades for waste to decompose. An incinerator that generates harmful air pollution. An ocean where waste can contaminate our food sources and recreation areas. Throwing something “away” could mean that it might end up anywhere, and this is partly due to China’s National Sword policy. China used to process nearly half the world’s recyclable waste, but since 2018 the Sword policy bans the import of most plastics into China. The U.S. and many other major waste-producing countries are now left having to recycle and reduce our own waste.

We have made some progress. I applaud everyone for bringing their own bags to the grocery store, swapping single-use items for reusable ones, and refusing plastic straws—because, you know, #strawssuck. But I also know that to truly make an impact, we need to think further outside the plastic box and stop waste upstream by pursuing a low/zero-waste lifestyle.

A low/zero-waste lifestyle is not going to happen overnight; it is a phased process. A good place to start analyzing plastic usage is in the bathroom. When my plastic toothpaste tube ran low, I swapped it out for toothpaste powder and tablets (Nelson’s and Bite Toothpaste Bits are a few of my favorites). Never one to waste, I donated my stash of unused plastic toothbrushes to my local shelter and purchased a bulk box of bamboo toothbrushes. As my shampoo, conditioner, and body wash supplies diminished, I swapped these out for bars and a refillable canister brand. My new deodorant is packaged in a cardboard container that resembles a push-up popsicle. My dedication to purchasing sustainable products got real when I signed up for REEL bamboo toilet paper, which also arrives in paper packaging, not the typical excessive plastic packaging.

For my next stop in phasing out plastics, I turned my focus toward the kitchen. I now buy foods in bulk, using silicone bags to freshly store my snacks and produce, which act like zip-loc bags but can be used over and over. For compost, I use a 1-gallon sealable silicone bag to store my produce scraps in the freezer, which prevent the scraps from decaying and emitting an unfresh smell. Once a week, I take my compost scraps to the local farmer’s market to be weighed and collected in a large bin, which is then generated into healthy soil for local farmers, completing the full circle! Produce scraps can also be deposited in the green waste bin provided by your city.

Up next in the plastic phase-out: cleaning supplies. My plastic kitchen scrub brush has been traded out with a bamboo version and my laundry detergent now sits on my shelf in the form of dissolvable laundry detergent stips, in lieu of a plastic jug. As for liquid cleaners, I discovered a company, Clean Cult, which packages cleaning supplies in a paper carton, much like a carton of milk or almond beverage.

Years ago, as I looked around my bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room, I noticed I had become addicted to plastics. It was time to break the plastic mold. I took my zero waste commitment a step further by studying and obtaining my TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Advisor certification offered by Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI) in March 2020. I look forward to working with companies to help reduce their waste upstream and creating policies to manage their waste downstream.

During our current pandemic state of emergency, I try to reduce my number of trips to the store. By choosing to purchase products that are durable and reusable, I have made fewer trips, diverted waste from landfills, received fewer deliveries, reduced my carbon footprint, and opened a new door for creativity.

And at the very least, the low/zero waste lifestyle has reduced the number of unpleasant trips that I have to make to the dumpster.

Resources for Starting Your Zero Waste Lifestyle: