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Getting Started with Zero Waste Living

Everything you need to know to get you started on the zero waste lifestyle.

Written for West Coast Refill by Heike Reher.


Nobody is perfect – which is the main point to keep in mind when somebody tells you they are living a “zero waste lifestyle”. It’s impossible, to not create any waste while being a human being in the 21st century. And that’s okay. In the words of Anne Marie Bonneau (who writes a blog called “Zero Waste Chef”): “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” So let’s all be imperfect at this together! But how?

Bea Johnson, another zero waste blogger (who made her blog “zero waste home” into a book by the same title) came up with 5 R’s as guiding principles. Here is what they are, and some notes on how I apply these in my every day life:

  • Refuse what you don’t need. For me this means I don’t (online) shop just because I am bored. I don’t subscribe to newsletters from companies that only want to sell me stuff. I make a list when I go grocery shopping, so that I don’t end up buying more than I need. Once a year I count how many clothes are in my wardrobe, so that I can remind myself for the rest of the year, that I do in fact not need another sweater. (What can I say – I like numbers. And I already own 16 sweaters.)
  • Reduce your belongings to the essentials. When something breaks or wears out, I have now trained myself into seeing that as an opportunity. Do I really need to own that thing? When my printer broke a few years ago, I didn’t replace it for a while, and it turned out, I can live without my own printer. Most of my documents are now digital. If I definitely need something on paper, I get it from a printing shop or ask a friend. For several years I didn’t own a car but used car sharing instead. And I am pretty sure I’ll be able to live with only 15 sweaters, once that grey wool hand-me-down finally falls apart.
  • Reuse where you can. This can be as easy as bringing your own bag, when you go grocery shopping. When you run out of paper tissues, try a cloth handkerchief. If you’re really into coffee-on-the-go, bring your own mug. If you like to hydrate while you’re out and about, carry a water bottle (you can even reuse a sturdy plastic bottle or a mason jar you already have). I like buying milk in glass bottles and beer in growlers.
  • Recycle, if you really have to get rid of something. If you live in the CRD, this website (link: ) has all the information about the blue box program. On and you can search by location or material. In the apartment building where I live, we don’t have bins for glass jars and plastic foil, so I clean those, collect them in my basement locker, and take them to a recycling location twice a year.
  • Rot organic waste. If you have your own backyard, you can do your own composting. If you live in a multi-unit building, talk to your building manager. There are multiple private sector options to get your kitchen scraps recycled. At an office in downtown Victoria where I worked, we used Pedal to Petal ( ) 

It’s fun to come up with your own “R’s” to add to the five principles below. Here are some of mine:

  • Repair stuff that breaks. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it yourself. I am happy to mend my clothes and haven even tried to kintsugi some broken dishes, but I’ll leave it to the expert to resole my shoes.
  • Repurpose: I cut up worn-out t-shirts into cleaning rags. My pantry and freezer are full of repurposed peanut butter jars, for storing dry goods and portion sized frozen soups.
  • Rethink your next purchase. No more sweaters for me.
  • Refill: next time you run out of dish soap, laundry liquid or shampoo, clean that empty bottle and take it to the refill store.



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