Confused about what Zero Waste actually means?

Confused about what Zero Waste actually means?
5 Minute Read.

Don’t worry, I was too…But after tons of research and almost a year of focusing on reducing my waste, I finally understand it. “At its most basic, zero waste is about significantly reducing, and eventually completely eliminating, the amount of stuff that we send to disposal.”


What if we redefine what the word “Trash” means?

Today, we think of it as anything we throw away—anything that’s no longer useful. But what if we separated our trash into groups that could be repurposed, recycled, repaired, donated, or composted—leaving absolutely nothing for the landfill? This is Zero Waste at its core: Eliminating what goes to the landfill by diverting the materials towards another purpose.

Here’s my trash breakdown…

Out of ALL of these items usually defined as “trash”, only one thing will end up in the landfill—the Protein Bar Wrapper. Everything else can be used for another purpose. That means that approximately 90% can be diverted from going to the landfill….that’s HUGE! Think of that on a global scale!

Image of a trash can showing what can be diverted from the landfill

So what’s the first step in getting to Zero Waste?

I know this can feel a bit overwhelming, but Bea Johnson, founder of the Zero Waste Movement, breaks it down with The 5R’s: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rot.”


  • In the grocery, opt for produce that doesn’t have packaging
  • Bring your own grocery bags so you don’t have to use the plastic ones
  • Stay away from store samples that come in single-use packaging 


Image of a Reusable Bag with fresh vegetables inside

Last week, I took my reusable bag to the grocery and picked up some veggies with no packaging!

(except for the rubber band & tag on the scallions)


  • Instead of buying a new dress for every occasion, buy quality items that will last forever and can be dressed up/down as needed.
  • Avoid pre-packaged snacks by making your own. You can buy the ingredients in the produce or bulk sections (without packaging).


Image of a Beet

Homemade beet chips anyone?
I found this fugly guy at the McCarren Park Farmer’s Market.
The Minimalist Baker has a super easy recipe for beet chips
(all you need is: rosemary, beets, olive oil, salt & pepper).


  • Instead of throwing out old clothes, you can cut them up into dishtowels or donate them.
  • Got a rip in your favorite jeans? How about sewing them back together with some funky thread to make them stand out?


Image of two grey sweaters that have been repaired

Apparently I have pointy elbows, which causes me to get giant holes in all of my sweaters.

Here are 2 sweaters I sewed back up recently. I think they’ve got a little more character now 🙂


  • Set up a recycling bin next to your trash and clearly label it so there’s no question about what goes into the bin.
  • New York City has decals that you can download and print for your recycling bins. They can also mail them to you for free!
  • Grocery stores often have drop-off bins for plastic bags (usually near the entrance). I recently stumbled upon, which shows you where your local drop off locations are.
  • Not sure what to do with your old electronics and wires? Stores like Best Buy have recycling bins just for this purpose.


Image of a New York City Recycling Decal

New York City Recycling Decal


Compost all food scraps in a backyard compost, or drop it off at a local collection center. If you don’t have curbside pickup at your home/apartment building, many local parks and farmer’s markets offer weekly compost collections.


Image of a Compost Container, labeled with what can be composted

Here is my compost container. I labeled as clearly as I could (since I have 3 roommates).

We keep it in the freezer to avoid any smells, and once a week, I drop it off at my local park.

As last resort, if items do not fall into any of the above categories, then off to the landfill they go.

Remember . . . we’re going for progress not perfection.

GIF of a scene from the move The Waterboy saying, "Your can do it"




Have any questions or comments about going zero waste?
I’d love to hear from you ?
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