Most of us have tried some sort of diet at one point or another. But have you ever considered going on one that doesn't change your internal weight but your external one?

The average American produces around 4.5 pounds of trash a day. Yikes—can you imagine gaining 4.5 pounds a day? So how can we slim down our collective trash footprint and still lead normal lifestyles?

I’ve been experimenting with ways to live a zero-waste existence for nearly 10 years. Don't let the name fool you: Going zero waste isn't about cutting out consumption entirely—it's a way to carefully and intentionally design, produce, and consume without waste as an end product.

The zero-waste lifestyle is about massively disrupting the amount of trash we make.

I’ve found that experimenting with this lifestyle has changed the way I buy, eat, and interact with my community. The zero-waste mentality stretches far beyond the trash can. It’s about embracing what brings us value. In a way, it’s a nod back to the time of our grandparents, when thrift, resourcefulness, and community were an inherent part of life.

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By taking simple steps to refuse, reduce, and purchase with care, we can bring value back to the materials that keep our daily lives running smoothly. Here are a few steps to take to start shrinking that trash can.

1. Consume less but better.

Simplifying our shopping habits and cutting down on our number of belongings can greatly support our efforts in trimming the trash waistline.

When we have cupboards full of items that are outdated, broken, or no longer appealing, we can become overwhelmed. Think about the items you usually buy: How often are you repurchasing those cheap, “I can’t believe they were only $2.99!” goods? Could you have held off and bought something that was a little bit pricier but had a longer life span? Put quality above quantity, and look for items that have enduring quality.

2. Rethink single-use disposables.

Single-use disposables are anything that we use once and then toss. (Think plastic bags, plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, straws, and prepackaged food items.)

Start swapping out these single-use disposables for reusable, multipurpose items made from stainless steel, glass, wood, or even clay. For example, a small Mason jar can pass for a coffee cup, water bottle, or even container to store leftovers! You can swap out disposable razors for a safety razor, disposable menstrual products for healthier reusable ones, paper towels for cloth ... in fact, most everything we use has a durable, lasting, and economical reusable version associated with it. Buying these reusables also allows you to more carefully curate your items.

3. Refuse those unnecessary items we often overlook.

When you order your drinks from a restaurant or bar, ask for no straw. If you know you’re going out to dinner to a place with large portions, bring a small container for leftovers instead of accepting a disposable one. Bring your own coffee cup to the cafe. Along with ditching single-use items, the most effective weapon in lowering our trash footprint is refusing unnecessary trash to begin with.

4. Make a few of your own things.

It's easy to make some of your own cleaners and personal care products using ingredients you probably already have lying around. All it takes to simplify (and detoxify) your cleaning routine is baking soda, a few drops of essential oils, and vinegar. A few minutes is all I need to make all the household cleaners I could ever use. And it takes me less time to make my own toothpaste than it would to run out to the store and buy it.

5. Embrace your community and use your voice.

Explore your community for local and handmade goods, food, and sharing services. Learn what is recyclable, compostable, and locally sourced in your area. The more informed you are, the better.

By voting with our dollars and giving companies and businesses incentive to make changes to their manufacturing processes, we can slowly start to shift the way goods and services are presented to us.

6. Compost.

Compost is nature's way of returning nutrients back to the earth, and it greatly reduces landfill waste. Starting a compost bin is a great idea to eliminate food waste from the old trash can. No space to set one up? See if a neighbor, community garden, or local farmers market has a compost pile you can add your scraps to.

Just remember: Zero waste is not about perfection. It’s about putting value back into our belongings and learning to simplify our wants and needs. Every small step goes a long way toward inspiring a new culture of responsible design, use, and recovery.


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