My Journey Towards Zero Waste and How You Can Get Started

How I drastically reduced my waste in a little over a year.

Person holding a small bag of garbage
Holding all the waste I produced in 10 months. Photo by Kieryn Matthews.

I first heard about the concept of zero waste close to 10 years ago and thought, cool idea but not realistic. In the last few years, I heard more about the movement and wondered if it really was possible. I was already doing many things to reduce my waste and carbon footprint like taking transit, shopping at thrift stores, carrying a reusable water bottle, and eating less meat but I wanted to do more. I never thought I could be one of those people who could fit all their waste for a year in one glass jar, but I was inspired by a friend who did just that. I have not made it to that point yet and maybe I never will. That’s ok. I realized that trying is better than not trying at all. Here is how I drastically reduced my waste in just over a year.

I started in earnest when I moved into a new place by myself. It allowed me to see just how much waste I was making and be completely in control of everything coming in and out of my home. It helped motivate me. I wasn’t exactly sure where to start and I was overwhelmed by advertisements for zero waste products. Were they all necessary? The answer is no. I’ll talk about a few of my favorite swaps but overall, the goal is to focus on reducing and reusing not buying more things. Don’t replace your plastic food storage containers with glass ones because you don’t want to use plastic. If you have plastic use it, instead of recycling it and buying something new. You don’t need to buy more things to start your zero waste journey.

The most helpful thing I did to start was a waste audit. There are a few ways to do this and I have listed some steps below. I took note of what I was putting in my garbage, recycling, and compost. Doing this will allow you to see what you are throwing out and help you determine what changes you might need to make to reduce your waste. I discovered the majority of my garbage was categorized as soft plastics; bread bags, chip bags, granola bar wrappers etc. I then researched grocery stores in my area that had less packaging (I even found a zero waste one!) and started to make more of my own food from scratch to avoid packaging. I also learned that my city has a soft plastic recycling program with locations I could take it to. There are other options out there, it just takes time to research ones in your area.

Steps for a waste audit:

1. Create a notebook or spreadsheet to take note of your waste

2. Determine the categories you want to track

3. Set a time period that you will be taking note of everything you put in the garbage, recycling, and compost

4. Tabulate your results

5. Decide what changes you are going to make moving forward

After doing the waste audit I went room by room in my home and assessed what consumable products I was using. Then I did more research on whether there were any zero waste or eco-friendly alternatives. An important thing to remember is you should not throw away your half-used shampoo bottle or dish soap until you have finished using it. It is more eco-friendly to replace it with a zero waste option once you’re finished with it. One of my favorite switches was a safety razor! Instead of throwing away countless plastic razors I purchased a metal safety razor. All you need to do is replace the blade every so often and recycle the old blades. I am constantly on the look out for other great swaps I can make and still have not found the perfect zero waste toothpaste or deodorant for me.

Some of my favorite swaps:

1. Plastic razor → safety razor

2. Tea bags → Loose leaf tea

3. Saran wrap and zip lock bags → bees wax wraps

4. Pads → menstrual cup

5. Regular grocery store → zero waste grocery store

6. Regular cleaning cloths and paper towel → compostable cloths

7. Laundry detergent → laundry strips

8. Shampoo and conditioner bottles → shampoo and conditioner bars

9. Single use coffee cup → Collapsible sealable reusable cup

10. Regular floss → compostable refillable floss

Going zero waste is not the answer to climate change, but your personal product choices do make an impact. It is possible to significantly reduce your waste. Do not worry about going completely zero waste, it is more important to try. There is an increasing number of zero waste and eco-friendly companies to buy from and lots of DIY recipes online. It is really exciting. I have found products and made products that I like way better than what I used before and I am saving money! I hope you are more inspired to reduce your own waste and are already thinking about how to start.



Passionate about sustainability and science communication with a degree in Environmental Science. I’m happiest when learning something new or outside in nature.

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Kieryn Matthews

Passionate about sustainability and science communication with a degree in Environmental Science. I’m happiest when learning something new or outside in nature.