Written by: Natalia Brown

Transitioning to a low-waste lifestyle is an excellent long-term goal that will help you become more conscious of your purchases and possessions. Over time, you’ll subconsciously be more adept at maximizing the life-cycle of materials to reduce the waste sent to landfill, incineration, or our oceans.

Ironically, consumer culture in society has made many of us feel as though there is a host of essential new supplies needed to live low-waste. From experience, myself and other members of the DFO team included; that’s not always the case! There’s a great deal of impact that can be made from a mindset shift, more resourcefulness, and creativity. These 3 key strategies may be implemented at any point in your low-waste journey to do good for your environmental footprint, wallet, mental and physical health.

1. Inventory your habits: think recurring habits and expenses!

A personal inventory of your actions is one of the best ways to increase your understanding of how a low-waste lifestyle can be achieved in a way that is uniquely your own! Be open to considering different types of waste as you go through day-to-day activities. This may include food waste (such as vegetable trimmings that you don’t eat) and loss (foods that perish before you get to eat them), solid waste made of recyclable and non-recyclable materials, single-use plastics, and bulky packaging.

This consciousness exercise may seem overwhelming at first, so remind yourself that more room for improvement only represents greater potential impact. Also, some unsustainable products and forms of packaging have dominated the markets and made alternatives less accessible to all. Make room for grace and acknowledge that living low-waste is a journey without a deadline or endpoint. Start with one or two sources of waste that are avoidable and manageable to phase-out at first, then gradually challenge yourself to do more. Repeating this exercise is important to integrate the long-term lifestyle goal within your mindset.

[Business Insider]

As you identify patterns in the things you do and use most, compare these findings to what you find yourself spending the most time and money on. We tend to overlook abundance, and it is extremely important to understand and identify these things when looking for areas for improvement. Give yourself a moment to step back and survey what you have; you could also recruit a friend or family member to contribute a second opinion! Culprits may include anything from a pantry item that sounds nice in the store each week, but you never actually get to using, to a clothing item that you tend to gravitate towards on the shelves, but hardly ever look to wear once in your closet.

You will reach an important milestone in your low-waste living journey when costs and priorities are specified and aligned. In my experience, this led me to embrace a more minimalist approach to my material possessions. As a result, I have avoided loads of direct and indirect wastage, saved an abundance of time, and eliminated unnecessary costs.

2. Make use of the hidden tools that you may not have noticed, but already have!

Sofia Mesa, DFO’s Chef Andrew Internship Program Director and one of my good friends from the University of Miami, is always coming up with innovative ways to repurpose the things we already have on hand for new needs. She recently shared a flash-lesson on Debris Free Oceans’ Instagram sharing her take on this topic and an early realization that I hope we can all prioritize more often. If you haven’t already, check out her video for some insight and additional tips!

Living low waste can seem “overwhelming when you [become more aware of] all the disposable products in your life. The solution may first seem to be to get rid of all those items and start fresh with reusable and more sustainable items … in reality, getting rid of all those (usually) perfectly good items to replace them is extremely wasteful.” – Sofia

First things first, some of that waste you identified throughout your audit … isn’t waste yet! Repurposing is the ultimate budget-friendly solution to reducing your footprint. Some of our most frequent household waste can be reused in a multitude of ways. My favorite items to repurpose are glass jars, cans and other types of food packaging. These materials are made to be durable and protect their contents, so they’re perfect to wash and recirculate to hold other products that you may use at your desk, in the kitchen, bathroom, garden, or elsewhere. The possibilities are practically endless!

[Cold Brew Coffee Recipe in a Mason Jar, Cold Brew Avenue]  [Clever Organizers, HGTV]  [9 Ways to Reuse Empty Baby Food Jars, Buzzfeed Nifty]

One bonus tip from Sofia is to save beverage containers, like wine or kombucha bottles, to propagate plants or store homemade low-waste cleaning products. By coincidence, I recently repurposed an empty liquor bottle to store homemade nut milk in bulk. This simple habit allows me to avoid trips to the grocery store and the single-use milk containers; and now I’ll save time by reducing the amount of times I need to make milk each week!

Upcycling textile waste is also a great way to channel creativity, reduce your footprint, and revamp your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Increasing the life of your clothes not only reduces the waste you generate directly by ridding of ill-fitting or off-trend garments; you also do so indirectly by reducing your demand for new production. Manufacturing clothes creates a great deal of waste—including water, energy, resource inputs and textiles throughout the supply chain to name a few.

[Sarah Tyau, Life is Beautiful]  [How to Make a Denim Skirt, Levi’s DIY]  [Pinterest]

3. Seek out circularity, secondhand treasures, and high-quality new alternatives.

If you do not feel that what you already own can be used to satisfy a particular need, seek out insights from experienced zero-wasters, family and friends. Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and Youtube can be good sources for some creative inspiration and ideas!

When all else fails, recognize that there may be instances where making a purchase is necessary.

With the same priorities of increasing circularity and the lifetime of valuable materials already in loop; the best place to start is with secondhand goods. When taking the necessary precautions to be safe when doing so, purchasing clothes or home goods from someone who no longer has use for their own can be an excellent way to reduce your waste footprint and that of your community. You don’t even have to step in a store to try this either! Swapping with neighbors, friends, or family is an even more budget-friendly way to increase circularity and find some useful secondhand treasures. Be sure to clean pre-owned personal or household products that you bring into your space and carefully test pre-owned appliances or tools to ensure smooth functionality.

When purchasing new products, it makes a difference to compare brands, ingredients or materials, and packaging. Items that may be used for multiple purposes, by multiple people, or for longer periods of time are most worthy of your investment. This can be as simple as finding a set of containers that may be adjusted to hold different volumes or as far-reaching as a sectional couch that can be rearranged to accommodate different rooms or residences. With a bit of deeper searching, you can also learn more about a company’s supply chain. Becoming more aware of the purchases we are making can send signals about our values and needs as consumers; gradually shifting competitors of sustainable, ethical brands to reassess their processes and advance circularity at a much greater scale.

Questions about transitioning to a low-waste lifestyle, upcycling or repurposing? Suggestions for future Trash Talk topics? Reach out to me via email, natalia@debrisfreeoceans.org!