Zero Waste Living

5 Zero Waste Essentials You Must Have (that aren’t actually things)

There are a lot of ‘how to be zero waste’ or ’10 items you must have to be zero waste’ or ‘zero waste essentials’ posts out there on the interwebs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing my fellow zero waste blogger community. I’m pretty sure I have an old post that falls within the same lines (here).

I think that these types of posts can be helpful when you’re just starting out. And we all have to start somewhere, right?

But I also personally believe in light of all the recent climate change reports (this one, and this one just to list a couple) that have come out – not in our favor, by the way – it is not only time to start reducing waste at home, but also on a larger scale.

Because of this, I wanted to put out a ‘zero waste essentials’ list that not only talked about things you ‘must have’ on a personal and home level (ie physical things), but also on a bigger scale – and that are just as important.

One other thing. I didn’t do a ‘things’ post with actual things, because zero waste is all about reducing. And that includes things that you buy and own. I’ll talk more about this below, but wanted to point it out here as well.

So, without further ado, here are the 5 zero waste essentials you must have.

how to reduce

Zero Waste Essential #1: A willingness to change

Change can be hard. Trust me – as someone who deals with anxiety (and has for my whole life), I GET. IT.

I am a lover of routines and consistency. My parents used to have to start talking to me about a change a week in advance when I was little.

So yeah. I’m right there with you.

So what are some things that may require change in the low/zero waste world? A menstrual cup. Composting. Eating more plant-based meals each week. These were all changes I made (the latter two with my family) that made me uncomfortable at first.

But you know what? I made them slowly. And now they’re so part of our routine I can’t remember a time when we didn’t do them.

And guess what else.

Change is necessary. You know the old saying:

The only thing constant in life is change. (Heraclitus, a greek philosopher)

Change can make us feel like we are losing control. And that’s scary. Again – I get it.

But you know what we’ve already lost control of?

Our changing climate.

Want to know a way to get some of that control back?

Doing what you can to help.

In order to be ‘zero’ waste, you have to be open to change. I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this, you’re at least interested in the idea of changing your habits.

But it isn’t as easy as just saying no to plastic straws. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but considering that 100 of the biggest companies in the world are producing 71% of all the harmful emissions (source), we’re going to need to do more.

My advice?

Start at home. Start small. Making small changes at home will help you get into the mindset to eventually branch outwards to even bigger things.

That’s right. I don’t just want you to stop at home (remember we talked about a willingness to change?).

So go forward and start reducing waste at home. And while you’re at it, maybe start paying attention to local and national candidates that support environmental/climate crisis plans so you’re ready to vote in an upcoming election. Just throwing out a completely random example (wink).

Things may get a little uncomfortable, but that’s OK. We’re all going to be a lot more uncomfortable with the effects of climate change. So might as well put in the work now.

You can do small and bigger things at the same time.

Need some tips on how to get started?

Zero Waste Essential #2: Patience

If you want to reduce your waste, you’re going to need to have patience. Patience allllll around. Patience with yourself and others.

Let’s start with yourself.

This is going to be a slow process. I’mma just going to give it to you straight. It’s going to be slow. There will be times you’ll be frustrated. You’ll feel like you failed.

Guess what.

Those are lies.

There is no failing, and it’s OK to be frustrated.

We live in a linear economy – meaning that the life cycle of ‘stuff’ that we consume is designed for an item to end up in a landfill.

Our neighborhoods are designed for lots of driving which means more gas which means more emissions.

Our food production has gone from local to foods from all over the world (and a good percentage not sustainable).

It’s almost as if we are being set up to fail.

But wait – don’t get discouraged! This is why it is so important to make these changes at home and continue beyond. We have the power to make these changes. But we need to be patient.

But please, for the love of everything holy, do not let ‘being patient’ be an excuse for not doing anything. Still keep moving, but know it’s OK if you feel frustrated or discouraged. Just get back up, brush yourself off, vent to a friend or supportive community, and keep going.

Oh, and one more thing about being patient with yourself.

Remember that you did not develop the habits you currently practice overnight. It’s unrealistic to think that you will develop low waste habits overnight as well.

Give yourself some grace!

single use plastic

Now, let’s talk about patience with others.

You are going to meet people along the way that may not be supportive of your low waste journey. You may even live with someone who isn’t on board.


People may question why you are doing something. When this happens to me, I try to use it as an educational opportunity (read: NOT lecturing), instead of getting defensive or assuming they are criticizing.

And if people are criticizing you? I know it’s never fun, but try to remember that it is more about them than you. Maybe they are feeling guilty that they aren’t doing more themselves. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe they’re just a jerk. And sadly, they’re taking it out on you.

But know that you are following your values and that’s the best you can do.

As for the people who don’t understand or who live with you but aren’t on board, the best thing I can offer is just to keep going. Keep doing your thing. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you’ll rub off on them. They may never get to ‘your level’, but that’s OK. You’re still making an impact.

Related Post: Eco-Anxiety and Eco-Guilt (The What and The How to Manage)

19 books to help you reduce

Zero Waste Essential #3: Access to the internet or books

We live in an age where information is readily at our fingertips thanks to the internet and social media. Oh, and those things attached to our hands causing us all to have sore necks.

I’m going to guess that MOST people own some sort of electronic device that connects to the internet in some shape or form. Maybe you don’t have internet at home, but maybe you have access to free wi-fi at work, or a local library, for example.

And speaking of your local library – have you been there since you were in grade school or college? The library is a great way to read books, newspapers, hop on the internet, etc for FREE.

So why am I preaching about having access to the internet and going to the library? Because knowledge is a powerful thing. Reading is a great way to learn. The internet and local and national newspapers can provide great resources for learning about different political candidates and their agendas, for example. The internet is a great place to research companies, to contact companies, to learn about ingredients, etc. I think you get the idea.

I’m going to guess if you’re reading this that you have access to the internet (I know – I’m a genius). What I want to tell you though is don’t be afraid to USE IT!

Related: 33 Zero Waste Bloggers and Instagram Accounts to Follow

If you are looking for some book suggestions, check out this list of zero waste books below that provide a good mix of how to get started and bigger impacts. Check them out/request them from the library, borrow them from a friend, or if you aren’t able to do those first two things, buy new (then share with your local free little library or a friend!).

Zero Waste Essential #4: Things you already own

The best zero waste item you could have is one you already own. I know it’s tempting to go out and purchase a bunch of reusable items when starting a zero waste journey, but you don’t have to! The items you already own have already used up resources to be manufactured, transported, etc. Purchasing new items requires using up more resources.

Please know I’m not saying to not buy anything. But it’s important to use up the things you already own first to prevent additional waste.

For example, when my family and I used up our disposable tissues, instead of buying new cloth hankies, I cut up an old shirt (photo above), an old swaddle that had a broken zipper, and a stained receiving blanket. We also use old burp clothes. Bonus: free and we used up things that were just sitting in a closet because we didn’t know what to do with them. Decluttering and zero waste for the win!

zero waste hierarchy of needs

Some things, like a menstrual cup, yes, you may need to buy new (although there are second-hand groups out there). And maybe you don’t have the resources to make your own beeswax wraps or soap. Then of course, if you’re able, buy new – and while you’re at it consider checking out and supporting a small business/local shop. Two of my favorite online zero waste shops are Tiny Yellow Bungalow and Bestowed Essentials. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, Tare Market is a great online/brick and mortar shop.

For items that are hard to make at home (non-consumables such as jars, clothes, really, anything!), consider shopping second hand. There are so many items already in existence that could use a good home. Plus – buying secondhand is budget friendly!

ways to reduce mental clutter

Zero Waste Essential #5: An open mind

Last but certainly not least, you’re going to need an open mind. Sometimes it is hard to take a look in the mirror and realize you need to change your habits. Sometimes it is hard to realize that you have the privilege to make environmentally friendly swaps, contact companies, be an advocate and an ally, but aren’t doing so.

Sometimes things that are ‘environmentally friendly’ may not seem like they are something you can do (looking at you, composting). But I ask you to keep an open mind.

You can do these things, and if you have the privilege and resources, you should.

We are all human beings that rely on the same planet to survive. This is no longer a time of them versus us, or ‘this doesn’t affect me so I don’t have to worry about it’. It does affect you and it is.

So take that look in the mirror. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.

We can do this.

Related Post: Plastic is Not the Enemy. Our Mindset Is.

What tips would you add?

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3 years ago

What a great post. Love these ideas and they’re all possible for anyone feeling helpless or hopeless or wondering “what can I do?”. Thank you!

3 years ago

These are excellent tips on how to work your way to zero waste. I am glad that you put a willingness to change as the first one, since without that one will never achieve zero waste or anything else they want. I have been working on reducing the amount of garbage my family produces and it certainly takes time to do it, but I can already see a difference and I really love knowing that we are doing our part to help the environment. The one thing I want to do, but currently don’t, is composting. I used to do… Read more »

3 years ago

I definitely need this encouragement, thank you! It does seem doable if you start small!


[…] Read books about reducing waste. I list a ton of options in this post. […]


[…] below on how to adopt a minimalist and zero waste lifestyle. In addition, here is a good post on things you need to be zero waste (that aren’t actually things). Bonus – some of the tips can apply to minimalism […]