How to Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle that Saves Money: Easy Tips for Beginners

by Nov 11, 2018

Have you ever wondered what it takes to live a zero waste lifestyle? And have you ever been discouraged because it seems impossible to fit our waste into a tiny mason jar? (I have!)

This blog post shares easy zero waste tips that can help you kick-off your zero waste lifestyle.

What is Zero Waste?

Traditionally, zero waste has meant diverting trash from going to landfills or incinerators, focusing on how to manage the product’s end-of-life. And naturally, the emphasize was more on recycling.

As society became more aware of the adverse impact waste has on our environment and waterways, our perception of zero waste also changed.

Now zero waste underscores the development of smart and innovative design that uses less material at source, also known as the cradle-to-cradle design concept.

Likewise, in the US, different cities and states have their own definition and goals for achieving zero waste.

Zero waste is not rigid. It’s a complex and ever evolving concept that guides us to use our resources wisely. 

So don’t feel bad or hopeless for not being able to fit your waste into a tiny mason jar.

Instead, start with the low-hanging fruits first, by adopting one or more of the following easy zero waste tips.

Sustainable living or becoming zero waste is not about being perfect, but choosing to be better. 

How to Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle that saves money: Easy Tips for Beginners

1. buy less, consume less

There was a time when I moved 5 times in 3 years.

And every time I moved, I was shocked at how much stuff I had and more importantly, how much of these stuff I did not know I even owned.

And it was from thereon (also having watched the amazing the documentary, Minimalism, on Netflix) that I decided to strive towards a life of minimalism and less consumption.

Purchasing less is the best way to strive towards living a zero waste lifestyle.

The word “reduce” comes first in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” because when we purchase less, we are preventing any waste from coming into existence in our lives.

Another great reason to buy less is money savings in the long run.

Unless it is a very rare item that increases value over time, most consumer goods will have less value with time. They become liabilities to you and you will have less to grow your assets.

Here are some tips that has helped me from buying less to reduce my waste:

  • It’s okay to miss that sale.

It will be on sale again very soon. As a recovering shopaholic, I’ve come to realization that stores are now always on sale (for whatever reason), and it just does not make sense to purchase something just because it is on sale.

And impulse purchases often lead to unnecessary waste and money spent.

For online shoppers, I would recommend leaving what you wanted to buy in the shopping cart overnight (or two) and come back to it the next day.

Because the next, that coveted item may not look so appealing now or it may become sold out over night. And if it does become sold out, I realized my disappoint is a fleeting emotion and my life has not been impacted by it at all.

  • Think quality and timeless over quantity and trendy.

I love wearing dresses and instead of purchasing multiple dresses that are lower in quality, I invest in a high-quality dress that are timeless and can be worn for years. I use scarves to change up the way the dress looks.

  • It is okay to buy something that gives you long-term joy.

Is there something you collect and that provides perpetual joy?

For example, e-books may be better for the zero waste lifestyle, but I like to purchase paper books because it is something that will bring me joy for a very long time.

2. Sell, Donate, reuse, upcycle Unwanted Items

Think before discarding unwanted items as it could become a valuable item for someone else.

A seasonal cleaning is recommended to see what you have and what you don’t need.

This will also gives a little nudge that you already have enough stuff and can help strive towards the zero waste lifestyle.

Tips for repurposing unwanted or unused items:

  • If it’s in good condition, sell it!

From i-phone to clothes, online commerce provides plenty of tools sell unwanted or unused items without hassle. Refinery29 provides multiple ways to selling belongings that are no longer in use. I’ve also found Nextdoor – the Craig List of your community – to be useful too.

  • Donate to goodwill or any other local donation center.

Make sure to keep the donation receipt to write-off during tax season.

  • Reuse or Upcycle.

Some items such as spaghetti sauce jars can be easily reused to store grains, used like a mason jar cup, or even as a vase to hold flowers.


Left to right: Upcycled art piece made from ocean waste by Enric Servera. Repurposed soju (Korean rice wine) bottle to hold sesame oil.

3. Choose Reusables Over Disposable plastics

It is estimated that one-third of the world’s plastic ends up in the landfill and our oceans. And by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish!

Plastic can take more than 400 years to biodegrade and also damage the human health. Plastic packaging in particular makes up 40% of our plastic waste and 60% of it ends up in the landfill.

Moreover, US used to export 56% of its plastic to China and with China’s restriction on importing foreign recycles from January 2018, getting rid of plastic will become more challenging.

By simply choosing reusables over disposables, we can easily prevent plastic from entering our ecosystem.

Everyday life reusables include reusable bags, cups, straws, and pour over coffee filters. (I personally love the LOQI reusable bags as it’s fashionable, fits into my purse when unused, and can hold up to 44lbs!)

Join the movement today and say no to plastic straws and along with other disposables. 

4. Sign Up for E-Bills and Opt-Out of Junk Mail

Unnecessary junk mails and bills create unnecessary trash. 

The annual office paper waste Americans throw away can build a wall that is 12 feet high from NYC to LA. GrowNYC estimates that if 100,000 people opted-out of junk mail, 150,000 trees could be saved annually (1).

Switching to e-billing, e-receipts, and online magazine subscriptions can help reduce paper trash. Moreover, with a small fee of $2, the Digital Marketing Association offers a way to stop junk mail from clogging up your mail box.

5. Switch to Products that Have Less Environmental Impact

Buying less is the best way to become zero waste, but there are items we may need in our lives.  

And luckily, there are now plenty of better and more eco-friendly options for consumers. 

Conscious consumers indirectly help the planet by purchasing products and services that have less impact on the environment

Moreover, products with less harmful impact on the environment are often less toxic and better for human health. 

Some labeling to look for include compostable, reusable, biodegradable, packaging made with recycled materials, produced with renewable energy, plant-based, carbon neutral, recyclable, non-toxic, among others. 


6. become familiar with local recycling laws to recycle properly

The recycling rate in the U.S. was about 34.3 percent in 2013 (2) according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This low recycling rate indicates that not everyone recycles even when a recycling program is in their local jurisdiction.

Recycling is the last option to divert waste from going into our landfills.

Therefore, proper recycling is essential to helping our community achieve zero waste.

I’ve worked as an environmental sustainability professional for almost 8 years, but have always been confused with recycling because of the difference laws in place in different regions.  

For example, should I recycle the envelop as paper or plastic? (There is a plastic window in the envelop.) Can I recycle ziploc? What about my toothpaste? Do I need to remove the plastic cap before I throw away the juice carton? How come my apartment does not have a separate collection bin for plastic/metals and paper?

And in the U.S., different local jurisdictions have different recycling regulations, making it even more confusing.

But the good news is that there are organizations that educate the public on proper recycling. 

For example, when I lived in New York City, I attended a recycling volunteers training program at GrowNYC, an environmental nonprofit organization, where I learned to recycle the proper way according to New York City laws.

Visit the local government website to find out more about how to recycle properly, and learn about the resources and training programs they offer.

7. Join or Organize a Community Zero Waste Action

Doing it together is better.

Joining or organizing a community zero waste action can provide useful information and guide you to start the zero waste lifestyle that works for you.

I am always looking for new ways to reduce my waste. Do you have easy tips that can help us become zero waste? Please share with us in the comments section. smile

Minnie Bio Photo

Sustainability strategy and climate policy consultant, Minnie, shares how we can together “keep it simply sustainable” and live in harmony with our natural environment. Learn more →