How to Set Yourself Up for Success When Going Zero Waste

zero+waste+kitchen+with+houseplant+and+unpaper+towels

If you’re anything like me, getting started on a new goal is one of the most exciting times in our lives — we’ve come to a place where we’ve envisioned new possibilities for ourselves and have recognized ways to push towards new growth — but it can also be one of the most intimidating and lead us toward goal spiral quickly. Maybe you’ve experienced this scenario?

We start with an exciting, shiny new goal, and all goes well for the first week or two until we hit a roadblock and suddenly find ourselves in need a break. So we take a day off. Then another one, and another one, until a month later and we find our break has become the daily status quo and we don’t have a single result to show for ourselves. And so we give up, until a new season or new year when we decide to give it a go again — this time with success!

I know, I’ve been there. Goal setting is a tricky practice and figuring out works best for you can take some trial and error (why else do we have thousands of different goal setting planners and workbooks?). Likewise, making a lifestyle shift can be equally as testy. We start off with good intention and enthusiasm, and as time goes on and challenges arise, we find ourselves questioning our motivation and ability to keep pushing forward.

But it is possible to push through and, from my experience, setting yourself up for success from the beginning is a important part of it. It may be tempting to jump right in to your zero waste journey and start making all the swaps from the get-go, but if I can give you any advice it would be: slow down. Achieving the zero waste life doesn't happen overnight. Take some time to set yourself up with a solid foundation that will keep you standing strong and pushing forward. Here’s a look at how I’ve framed my zero waste journey and set myself up for achievement and growth along the way. 

First Thing’s First, Get Clear on Your Why

One of the most important things you can do when starting a new goal or lifestyle journey is gain clarity around your “why” — the motivating intention behind your initiative. So, you want to go zero waste? Ask yourself why.

It’s important here to think big picture. If you don’t feel that your intention will matter to you six months from now, it likely isn’t important enough to motivate you in the long run (and let me tell you, a lifestyle shift is definitely the long-run!). Your “why” should be an intention that feels so aligned with your value-set that each and every thing you do in life supports and furthers it.

“Your “why” should be an intention that feels so aligned with your value-set that each and every thing you do in life supports and furthers it.”

For me, that why is: To provide a clean, healthy, harmonious planet for all species on earth now and in the future. It’s why I avoid single-use plastic, why I’m working towards a more plant forward diet, why I shop ethically and secondhand, and ultimately, why I’m in business.  

Be In the Know

Aside from setting a strong intention, educating yourself is another key component in setting yourself up for success in the zero waste life. When you build a solid foundation of knowledge around the critical issues facing our planet, you strengthen your reasoning behind each decision you make. For instance, saying “no” to straws becomes a much more important choice when you know that:

  • Americans are using about 390 million plastic straws each day

  • It takes up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose and they can’t be recycled in most places

  • Each year, 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting plastic (source)

versus just hearing that it’s an easy first swap to make. Learn the 5R’s, check a few zero waste books out from your local library, find a few bloggers to reference when you’re curiosity spikes, read environmental news and journals. The more you know, the more motivating the lifestyle becomes. 

Start Small, Build Habits

When it comes to building habits, I don’t really think there’s a magic number of days it should take to truly form one. Some say 21, others say longer, but in my opinion, it all comes back to the individual, their motivation to make change, and of course, their “why.” If we have clarity around our “why” and are motivated to make change, the habit forming will likely occur faster than if we don’t.

That being said, I don’t recommend trying to make ten habits at one time. Start with one or two and once you’ve got those nailed, move on to the next. You can get started by doing a review of your daily routine and asking yourself: where is there potential for me to make waste?

“If we have clarity around our “why” and are motivated to make change, the habit forming will likely occur faster than if we don’t. “

Do you stop at the coffee shop every morning? Invest in a reusable travel mug and practice bringing it with you each morning. Eating lunch on-the-go most days? Get in the habit of packing your lunch a few days a week (sans ziplock!) and bringing cutlery from home (or invest in a reusable bamboo set). Wherever you start, just remember to give yourself time to really let things become second nature. 

Hold Yourself Accountable

One of the biggest reasons I started Simply Zero was to hold myself accountable along my journey. Knowing that there was a digital community counting on me (and let’s be honest, it was mostly my family and friends at first) was motivation to keep working towards new habits and goals, doing the research, and sharing it with the world. So, if you’re like me, find a way to connect with your peeps and let your most loved and trusted people know what you’re up to. Zero waste meetups and online groups are becoming more and more popular so do a quick search on Facebook or Meetup to see what’s happening in your community online and IRL. 

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Lastly, remember to have grace and be kind to yourself. Making a lifestyle switch isn’t easy and there will be times where you'll feel guilty or frustrated with yourself for imperfections along your journey. Showing kindness to yourself is something we often forget and just like in anything we do or challenge we take on it’s important to remind ourselves to show the same kindness to ourself as we would to others embarking on the same things. When you do experience the inevitable #zerowastefail, feel what you need to feel in the moment, know that in the grand scheme of things it’s OK, and then jump right back in where you left off. YOU GOT THIS!