A beginner’s guide to a zero-waste home
Trash – it’s everywhere. In fact, the world creates at least 3.5 million tonnes of plastic and other waste each day.2 For good reason, many people are making a conscious effort to reduce their household waste, and some are even on a mission to produce zero waste. Okay, we know what you’re thinking: zero waste – that’s impossible! While we don’t expect you to cut all your waste in a day, we do want to help you change the way you shop, clean and eat. Read on for our list of practical – and achievable! – tips for transitioning to zero waste.

Re-evaluate the way you buy and use food.

Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away, or how much packaging waste just one trip to the grocery store can produce. If you know how to shop properly, you can cut back on kitchen waste and even save money. Here’s how:

  • Plan ahead. Keep a running list of grocery items you need to prep for fresh-food shopping. Go online to see what unpackaged foods are on special that week and plan meals around those to keep costs low (here are a few meal-prep hacks to get you started!) You also want to have enough zero-waste produce bags, jars and containers for your trip.. And if you can, buy in smaller quantities more often, and frequent shops that let you fill your own containers.
  • Stick to the perimeter. At the grocery store, the perimeter is where you can best avoid plastic and packaging.
    • Produce. No need for plastic bags – buy your produce “naked!” You can always wash it at home. For smaller veg (like mushrooms), transport them in reusable bags.
    • Meat and fish. Have the butcher or fishmonger weigh and price your fish (take a picture of the scale price instead of getting a label!) and place it in your own container.
    • Cheese and dairy Many cheese counters will be happy to serve your wedge of cheese unwrapped! And, you can now buy milk in reusable and returnable bottles.
    • Bakery Get your bread from the fresh bakery section – they can slice it there and place it in your own cloth bag.
  • Buy in bulk. Here’s where you’ll likely save the most cash and reduce the most packaging waste. Buy necessities like rice, sugar and oats in bulk. You can even stock up on stuff like vinegar, peanut butter, grains and pulses, and pet food at bulk stores.
  • Make your food last longer. To avoid spoilage, ensure you’re storing your food properly both in and out of the fridge. By wasting less food, it’s better bang for your buck and you’ll save time, too (less grocery shopping!). Health Canada has excellent tips on proper food storage.
  • Use your freezer. Your freezer is your best friend for avoiding food waste. Freeze uneaten leftovers for future lunches and blanch and freeze produce that’s about to run its course.

Start composting.

Did you know that up to 80% of household waste is actually organic matter that can be composted?3 By composting at home you can significantly reduce the number of trash bags you’re putting out every week. Some municipalities have already implemented “green bin” curbside collection systems, but if your area hasn’t you can easily do it yourself. Just how you do it depends on your housing situation.

  • If you have a backyard. You’re good to go! Set up a stationary or tumbling bin, and learn how to properly compost. Your garden will love you for it!
  • If you don’t have a backyard. If your building doesn’t participate in a green bin system, get yourself an airtight compost container or keep compost in the freezer until it’s time to get rid of it. Drop it off at a composting depot or site in your area.

Did you know? You can compost more stuff than you probably think! Tissues and napkins, some cardboard, wine corks and paper muffin liners can also be tossed in the bin. Remember, there are still certain foods you can’t compost. In general, these include meat and bones, fats and cooking oils, and dairy products.

Repurpose what you already have and buy only reusable items.

First, don’t buy more stuff if you don’t need it. Before you start spending, take inventory of what’s already in your home that you can repurpose. Glass jars, for example, can be used to transport lunches or for storing leftovers. You can use kitchen towels to wrap fridge-bound herbs and leafy greens. Old t-shirts can be cut into rags for cleaning the bathroom instead of using disposable wipes. The possibilities are endless!

You’re going to need to buy some new (but long-lasting) alternatives to disposables. Ditch plastic water bottles in favour of a sturdy stainless steel water bottle and carry it wherever you go (and while you’re at it, grab a mug for coffee, too!). Metal and bamboo straws are now available, and you should also pick up a set of glass (not plastic) microwaveable containers to heat your food at work. For grocery shopping, use cotton carry-all bags and zero-waste produce bags. And for storing food, instead of plastic wrap invest in moldable wax wrapping you can wash and reuse.

TIP: If you do have to buy something packaged, make sure the packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, or that you can repurpose it.

Quit buying “fast fashion."

What is fast fashion, you ask? It’s a new term used for companies that mass produce clothes of cheap quality and sell them at low prices. And, it has a serious environmental cost. Clothing purchases have more than doubled since the year 2000,5 largely because of fast fashion. Each Canadian household throws out 46 kg of clothing per year on average, and 8% to 12% of landfills are made up of textile products.6 To make things worse, the fashion industry alone now produces around 10% of the world’s carbon emissions.7

The problem is, it’s hard to resist a deal. So how can we curb our addiction to fast fashion? Here are some ways to keep your buying at a minimum:

  • Start thrifting. These days, many secondhand boutiques are carefully curated to suit specific styles, and carry designer looks that you can actually afford. Secondhand clothes might not fit perfectly, so take them to a tailor for alterations.
  • Learn how to repair. Extending the life of your wardrobe is good for your wallet and the earth. Sign up for a sewing class or watch online videos to learn how to spruce up your stuff.
  • Buy sustainable intimates. We’re guessing you might not want to by someone else’s swimwear, underwear or old, sweaty fitness gear. You can get these new but opt for items made from sustainable, recycled materials.
  • Rent an outfit. Think you’ll only wear an outfit once? Don’t buy it – rent it! Hop online and check out Canada’s roster of clothing rental companies (like Fitzroy) that offer items for every occasion.
  • If you have to buy new, invest in quality clothing. Be mindful of the materials your clothes are made with. Buy from companies that use recycled materials, sustainable fabrics and eco-friendly dyes. These clothes might cost a little more but because they’re higher quality, they’ll last longer and, in the end, your bank account will appreciate it.

    Join the trading and sharing economy.

    We all have stuff we want, and also stuff we don’t need. Instead of buying new or tossing things in the trash, why not trade? Online trading communities are popping up everywhere, and these groups let you barter, sell, and trade items (and even services!) with others in your area. Trading makes economic and environmental sense since it saves you money and helps divert would-be trash from landfills.

    We’ve already covered renting clothes, but what about all that stuff you’ll probably only use once? Whether it’s a set of golf clubs, a high-tech camera or even a drone (hey, why not?), new apps like Buro (they’re Canadian!) let you temporarily rent other people’s things – and list items of your own to lend to make a bit of cash on the side.

    TIP: Join an online zero-waste community for support, advice, and to share your ideas!

    Actively reducing your household waste takes practice and dedication. By changing your perspective and a few key habits you’ll be well on your way to becoming waste free (or nearly!). Producing less waste is just one step to reduce your environmental footprint. If you haven’t already, start taking additional steps to green living – it’ll even make your insurance company happy!


    Protect your home and the things you love most. 1 Drowning in a garbageOpen in a new window 2 The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet 3 How People Make Only a Jar of Trash a Year 4 Disposable tampons aren't sustainable, but do women want to talk about it?Open in a new window 5 Putting the brakes on fast fashion 6 Our fast fashion habit is killing the planet Knix