Plants on a wall growing in used beverage containers

My zero waste lifestyle began after I heard the statement, “There may be a plan B but there is not a planet B.” I was in awe of a reality I hadn’t yet processed.

Since then, I watched the documentary “COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret” only to learn more about the destruction industrial agriculture causes. Soon after, I became a vegetarian. [*See editor’s note below.]

Along the way, I’ve been educating myself more and more about the inconceivable and harsh truth about agriculture and the food industry. Disclaimer: I can’t say I’m 100% zero waste, but I’m getting there. 

Living a zero waste lifestyle has considerably benefited me and the planet. This includes reducing my intake of material goods, and in return, producing less waste. For example, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, over 40% of all food in America is wasted — tossed away to serve no purpose but take up space in a landfill.

A zero waste lifestyle takes training

Don’t be hard on yourself. Allow yourself to learn gradually. First off, you‘ll have to be able to say no to the little things and the deals. Figure out what you truly like. Focus on what you really need and start buying according to your tastes.

To avoid giving in to the little items that fill up your cart, create a plan before you go grocery shopping. And never go shopping while you’re hungry! Make a list. A shopping list negates the tempting deals and desires you might encounter.

But it’s not just what you buy, it’s how. Abandoning your dependency on plastic can be intimidating, and there’s a bit of planning involved for your zero-waste journey.

  • Pay attention to the types of packaging that food and other goods come in. Some waste packaging is unavoidable, but try to choose items that come in easily recyclable or reusable materials.
  • While working toward a zero-waste goal, focus on organizing and labeling your pantry. It’s your best friend from here on out. When you’re able to see what food is waiting for you to eat versus plastic containers or cardboard boxes, you’re able to hold yourself accountable to utilize food before the expiration date.
  • The bulk section may seem daunting, but each time gets easier until you notice you’ve adopted a new habit. This section is exceptional because it benefits a circular economy — where you take, make, return and reuse over and over again. 

Shopping this way not only supports the environmental movement and a circular economy, but it often supports independently-owned stores and puts money back into your local economy.

Other simple changes

Personally, I try to ensure that everything I consume or use has the idea of a circular economy in mind.

  • For food waste, I compost since organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • I’ve switched to plastic-free cleaning/care products and fill up at my local bulk store.
  • I don’t use plastic, especially one-use plastic.
  • I make sure to bring my own cup for a coffee shop or to-go container when eating out.
  • Most recently, I have given up fast fashion, this allows me to shop in a mindful way with secondhand or vintage.

Don’t think you’re alone

Finally, don’t think you’re alone. There are zero waste communities to join for support all over. Remember: there’s always a way to help improve the environment and quality of life.

Sustainability is a thousand small choices you make every day!

Neely, in one of her favorite places

Editor’s note: Neely made the commitment early on that becoming a vegetarian was an important step in her journey to live in a way that cares for our earth. If the idea of giving up meat to reduce your carbon footprint is not appealing to you, here are some other suggestions that can help the planet and still keep you satisfied with your food choices:

Neely Atha

Neely Atha is a member of Sunrise, Minnesota North Star Sierra Club Chapter, Citizens' Climate Lobby, Central Minnesota Chapter for The Climate Reality Project, Land Stewardship Project, and The Resilient Activist . She has worked towards a zero waste lifestyle since 2019 and is an avid vegetarian and plant mom. Her time is best spent landscaping, hammocking, biking, with animals, or helping others around her. I resonate with The Resilient Activist's mission and am thankful for being able to be a part of an ever-growing community that offers growth and satisfaction through positive environmental resources. I'm constantly reminded that there is something good in every day. I truly believe we can make a difference together and address genuine, efficient, and revitalizing work to address the climate goals for the future. We come from the earth, we return to the earth and in between we garden. If you're reading this keep gardening!