As more people become aware of how much waste they generate, they care more about being eco-friendly and pay more attention to the products they buy. So the market is supplying more zero waste alternatives to meet demand.

If you’re new to the zero-waste lifestyle, it can seem extreme and maybe a little overwhelming. Because of this, many people give up before they even get started.

But you don’t have to make extreme changes, you can start small and work up to a zero-waste lifestyle.

Even if you never become truly zero waste, you can still make a significant impact by implementing some of these zero waste alternatives.

Try adding one of these swaps into your life every month. You may find that it’s easier than you thought, and you might just add a few more!

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What does "zero waste" mean?

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What’s so great about zero waste?

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How to identify zero waste products.

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10 zero waste alternatives for beginners.

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TL;DR

If you’re new to the idea of zero waste, it’s important to understand what exactly “zero waste” means and how it can impact your carbon footprint. You’ll also want to know how to identify zero waste products.

Let’s start by building a strong zero waste foundation.

What does zero-waste mean?

Zero waste refers to any product or practice that does not end with trash going to a landfill or being incinerated.

The goal is simply to consume, reuse, recycle, or compost all components of the product. Basically, follow the 5 Rs. If you’re not sure what that means, check out my blog on eco-friendly words.

Let’s consider a banana as an example, is a banana a zero-waste product?

Zero Waste Alternatives for Beginners - Banana
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A banana comes in its peel as packaging. You can eat the fruit (consume it) and the peel is biodegradable, so you can compost it instead of throwing it in the trash.

That seems pretty zero waste, right? But what about that little sticker that comes on the banana? Well, if you put that in the trash, that makes waste – so the banana is no longer a zero-waste product.

And if you throw the peel in your trash, and send it off to the landfill? Nope, that’s not zero waste.

Remember, zero waste means nothing goes to a landfill or incineration. It’s not always as simple as it seems.

What’s so great about zero waste?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans sent 139.6 billion tons of trash to landfills in 2017.

This is a problem because landfills are not designed to support decomposition of anything. They just do their best to seal the waste off from the environment to minimize the impact of all our waste. You know, stuff like battery acid and anti-freeze that people irresponsibly toss in the trash.

Most landfills are filled with a lot of paper, something like 30-40% of the trash in your average landfill is from paper products. And about 12% is plastic.

zero waste alternatives - landfill
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But even the paper does not break down in a landfill. Multiple sources refer to 40-year old newspapers being unearthed from old landfills, still perfectly legible.

But it gets weirder, I’ve read articles that cite: 40-year old hot dogs — not moldy; 10-year old carrots — still orange; even guacamole from 1967 — still recognizable as guacamole!

How can this be?!?

Landfills are designed with dry, oxygen-poor conditions that cause organic matter to mummify rather than decompose. So very little biodegradation happens in landfills.

On top of that, landfills generate byproducts like leachate and methane gas. Leachate is a liquid runoff that collects particulates and toxins from whatever it happens to pass by.

The good news is that landfills are designed to prevent the release of these, and other, toxic grossness. The bad news is that sometimes they fail, and the nasty stuff gets into our groundwater, rivers, soil, air, etc.

I also mentioned incineration as something that is prevented by zero waste. Incineration destroys trash by burning it.

Zero Waste Alternatives for Beginners - Incineration Plant