22 ways to fire up a zero-waste lifestyle

By Mary McIntyre

A summertime refresher course

You may have noticed that, some months back, we changed the title of this column from “Can You Recycle That?” to “Zero Waste.” That’s because recycling is only one of many practices in our quest for landfill-free, low-carbon-footprint living.

A zero-waste lifestyle demands that we consider what/why/where we buy, what can be repaired, how we might repurpose what we no longer need, what might be recycled and, finally, how to send our detritus to the eternal hereafter.

Here’s a review of some tried-and-true options. A few may be new to you, even outside of your comfort zone.

These are easy steps to take, and require only  a commitment to start, not perfection. Small steps do lead to a bigger change. New habits can feel daunting at first, but with a determination to try a new idea, you will quickly discover that taking action towards a more sustainable lifestyle is easy to do.

So, without further ado, here are 22 ways to fire up your Zero Waste lifestyle.

1. Reduce food waste by meal planning.

2. Buy in bulk and minimize pre-packaged goods.

3. Incorporate more low-carbon plant-based meals into your diet.

4. Use beeswax wrap instead of plastic to wrap and cover food items.

5. Use a worm bin for food scraps (my youngest tells his friends he has 1,000 pets); your garden and houseplants will thank you.

6. Reuse the plastic mesh produce bags as a pot scrubber.

7. Paper towels: I keep one roll of 100% recyclable paper towels hidden in the pantry closet for the once-in-a-blue-moon, truly gross clean-ups (think pet accident—my dog weighs 120 pounds) and use maybe two rolls per year. Otherwise, washable cloth napkins, dish towels, microfiber cloths and cut-up worn terrycloth towels easily cover all my paper towel “needs.”

8. Collect rainwater in rain barrels to supplement your garden watering.

9. Use bar soap and shampoo bars to reduce packaging.

10. Repair first before replacing—it’s empowering to learn to fix something! Check out the Utah Recycling Alliance’s Fix-It Clinics and the upcoming Craft Lake City DIY Festival.

11. Check out local second-hand clothing shops or participate in a clothing exchange rather than buying new stuff.

12. Dust off your library cards or check out your neighbors’ Little Free Library.

13. Women: jettison those disposable feminine products and use a menstrual cup.

14. Catch the shower water in a bucket as it’s warming to water plants or flush the toilet.

15. Ditch the plastic garbage bag liner. It just makes more trash!

16. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues.

17. Use a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one.

18. Buy no more gift-wrapping paper; use up what you have, then buy reusable gift bags.

19. Use wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.

20. Use drip lines and water gardens and lawn at night.

21. Dry your clothes on a clothesline (inside or outside).

22. About those low-hanging fruit: On average, plastic bags are in use for 25 minutes. It takes from 100 to 500 years for a plastic bag to disintegrate, depending on the type of plastic.  Carry a tote. And stay hydrated with your very own reusable water bottle. Make it distinctive (so you don’t lose it) and take it with you everywhere. Keep coffee mugs at home, at work, in your car and bike basket. Straws? Try metal, bamboo or even durable plastic. Kiss single-use plastics goodbye!


Mary McIntyre is the former executive director of the Utah Recycling Alliance, a local nonprofit focused on programs that encourage reuse, recycling and resource conservation. She strives towards a Zero Waste lifestyle by making lifestyle choices and  conscious decisions each day to minimize her and her family’s waste/carbon footprint.




Learn more!
Changing habits
Food waste
New bulk store in SLC
Low-carbon plant-based meals
Worm bins
Make a scrubbie from an onion bag
Paper towel replacement ideas
Repair it!
Menstrual cups
How a toiler works
Collect rainwater
Drip line irrigation

This article was originally published on July 1, 2019.