Earth day 2016 marked the completion of our family’s first year without a trash can. As many of our readers already know, this journey began in January of 2014. But at that time we could not imagine living without a garbage can as we were producing a large black garbage bag of trash weekly. However, once we became conscious of what we were putting into our grocery cart and subsequently into the garbage can, the amount of unnecessary waste we produced quickly decreased. These immediate results provided tremendous encouragement, which was vital as transitioning to Zero Waste is like traveling an uncharted course in a society that is continually setting up booby-traps  along the way.

By the time we were ringing in the 2015 New Year, the notion of doing away with our trash can had crept into our daily thoughts. It now felt doable. So, on Earth Day 2015, we made the commitment – Sayonara, trash can! As we look back over the last year our lessons seem clear. Ah, hindsight! So, In no particular order, and with the hope of helping you sidestep a booby-trap or two, we pass on the lessons we’ve learned over the course of our journey.


1. Go Slow

As with anything new, there is a learning curve and the input requirement is significant. Ease in as you are establishing new habits, creating new routines and exploring alternative resources. In time, living Zero Waste will simplify your life and create more time. But in the beginning, it is time-consuming, especially if you are like me and prefer to jump right into the deep end. 2.

2. Do No Deprive Yourself

I like to compare Zero Waste to a dietary lifestyle change. It is not a diet. Diets do not work because they are temporary and often times they are too restrictive. Identify foods, products, services that you are not ready to let go. Make a “cheat sheet”. Our families have Top Ten lists of items we can’t live without. In time we’ve challenged ourselves to find sustainable alternatives to some of these items. But in the beginning, the lists provide breathing room and reduce the pressure to be perfect.

3. Make Your Own Rules/Goals

Do not design your rules/goals based on those of another Zero Waster. Chances are your geographic location as well as resources available in your area will dictate how close you can get to Zero Waste. It is important to remember that Zero Waste is an idealistic notion – and in reality, no one achieves it. The name is extreme and I believe it must be to garner attention, however, what is important is that we work towards reducing our carbon footprint by keeping the aspirational goal of Zero Waste in mind.

4. Be Strict With Yourself

Whatever your rules are, stick to them. This is the easiest way to establish new habits. If you find yourself in a situation where you have forgotten your travel mug, yet you desperately need a caffeine hit, choose to sit down and enjoy your coffee using an in-house mug or, if you do not have time, opt for a quick espresso or forgo the coffee altogether. Tired as you may be, you will survive and you will be less likely to forget your mug next time your run out the door.


5. When You Experience a Zero Waste “Fail” Do Not Beat Yourself Up

Zero Waste fails are going to happen, especially in the beginning. Instead of beating yourself up about the waste, take stock and see if there is a solution for the next time you find yourself in the same situation.

6. Give Yourself A Goal

Whether it is reducing your trash by a specific percentage or working towards eliminating your trash can, having a goal in mind helps keep you on track.

7. Communicate With Friends, Family and Educators

The Zero Waste movement is in its infancy and many people cannot quite envision what you are trying to achieve. Furthermore, the general population is on autopilot when it comes to consumer habits and celebrations. Sharing your new lifestyle and clearly expressing what this means in terms of how you wish to interact with the people in your social circles is imperative.  Understand that family and friends will forget and mistakes will be made. Be gentle in your correction as their mistakes were likely unintentional or innocently made.

8.Change Your Perspective

Everything from day-to-day chores to celebrations and vacations will change once you adopt Zero Waste. In trying situations, focus on what you are gaining instead of what you are giving up. Remember that traditions can be modified and that perspective is everything. This has been the hardest challenge for me.  I struggle with that little consumer voice in my head that tells me I am depriving my children if they do not experience life the same way I did or as their peers do. However, the truth is my children have adapted wonderfully to every situation and I was worrying over non-issues.


9. Starting IS the Hardest Part

This is a truth that has revealed itself to me many times in my life. With each new challenge I tackle in my life, be it running a marathon, going Zero Waste or giving up meat and dairy, I am reminded that the hardest part of the journey is starting. I am not sure what it is with us humans but we tend to ruminate and build barriers where they need not be.  Making the commitment and resolving to start is the greatest challenge, so pat yourself on the back if you are over this hurdle.

10. De-Clutter

Simplifying your surroundings will aid in simplifying your mind and your life. Take stock of everything you own, from clothing to beauty and household products. You will find you have much more than you thought. For example, upon de-cluttering our bathroom I found seven unopened floss cartridges. We likely acquired so many from making impulse purchases when seeing it on sale. Taking stock of just how many we owned allowed my family breathing room on sourcing an alternative.

It was two years before we finished the floss and by that time sourcing an alternative wasn’t a stressor. It was easy. So there you have it. The 10 lessons I have learned from the first leg of my journey. Looking ahead, I see so many great challenges. Here is to the challenges Year Two will bring!

Image source: Art_Photo/Shutterstock