Implementing a Zero Waste Lifestyle

For the past couple years I’ve been recording my personal carbon emissions on a monthly level. I do this so I can visualize my personal carbon impact and see how it changes during the year. I also record it so I can see how my actions affect it.

As of now, here’s a quick summary of my emissions in 2017 as of this writing. The first graph shows my emissions so far in 2017. I excluded flights from this graph because it distorts the data. The second graph shows what an average month looks like so far in 2017. Flights are included in that second graph.

Every year, during my goal planning sessions I try to implement a new sustainability goal. This is one of the 14 imperatives I consider important for a high performance life. My vision, for this area of my life, is going completely carbon neutral before 2030.

Each year I analyze my current emissions for opportunities to improve. I’ve decided that the emission category that makes the most sense to reduce over the next year is my personal waste creation. I’ll go into my longer term plan to phase out all carbon emissions on a later post. Stay tuned!

I’ve decided that my goal for 2018 will be to reduce my waste emissions down to zero (or 90%) for the entire year of 2018 and for every year for the rest of my life.

It’s going to be a challenge for sure but I am confident that I can pull it off. I’ve seen others maintain that lifestyle effortlessly for years. It will require simplicity, awareness and courage to achieve the goal but it is very doable.

How I am Going No Waste:

I first started by studying my waste consumption in April of this year. I painstakingly measured every gram of waste I created. I organized the data into what type of material I threw out (paper, plastic, metal, etc), the end source (trash, recycling, or composting), the weight of the item and a brief description of the waste item.

Below are some of the data I gathered from this experiment:

I spent some time before writing this post, analyzing all of the items I threw out. I found many similarities and batched them together. Then, I thought of some zero waste alternatives for each of them. I owe credit to the various zero waste blogs, such as this one, that helped me gather ideas and solutions for this challenge.

Here are some of the items I threw out the most in April 2017:

  • Tissues, napkins and paper towels
  • Paper, notepads, and related office supplies
  • To-Go Containers, disposable cutlery (plates, forks, spoons, straws, cups)
  • Paper and plastic bags
  • Aluminum foil
  • Disposable coffee cups
  • Packaged snacks and food items
  • Beer bottles
  • Plastic razers and disposable floss
  • Shaving cream and toothpaste
  • General cleaning supplies
  • Milk containers
  • Wrappers for food
  • Receipts
  • Containers for food (such as peanut butter, salad dressings, etc.)
  • Protein powder containers
  • Food waste and scraps

Pretty much all of these items above can be either eliminated, switched to a reusable method, reduced, recycled or locally composted. My plan is to only throw out items on an as needed, emergency basis.

Here are some of the alternatives I have decided to use instead of using disposable methods:

Reusable Water Bottles

Bamboo Reusable Cutlery

Cotton Handkerchiefs

Glass Mason Jars

Insulated Reusable Coffee Cups

Reusable Knapkins

Bamboo Toothbrushes

General Rules of Thumb:

1. Refuse: Avoid decisions that create waste and instead implement decisions that completely eliminate them. An example would be not going out to purchase coffee at a shop that doesn’t offer reusable containers. Instead, make your coffee at home. You’ll save money and reduce waste.

2. Reduce: Eliminate waste when possible. If it’s not an option, consider reducing it from current levels. An example would be purchasing a packaged food item you like a lot once per month instead of 4 times per month.

3. Reuse: If you need to create some waste, consider re-purposing it instead of tossing it out. This way you could potentially save money by using a waste item for a practical purpose. An example I’m considering is with my protein powder. Unless I can find a way to get it without the plastic container, I will plan to use the container for storage of other food items or for making a sculpture.

4.  Recycle: By now, the goal is to have very little waste products created. If you do find yourself creating some. Consider selecting items that have the ability to be recycled and re-purposed into a different use. Often, this use is of a lesser quality than the original, so it’s not a preferred method. I still consider recycling as creating waste but it is less damaging than it going to the landfill.

5. Rot (Compost): Alternatively, Instead of selecting materials that can be recycled, consider selecting products that can be composted. These can be composted at your home compost bin or at a savvy shop that has them included.

I hope to inspire you to join me on this journey as well. And don’t hesitate to comment with questions and feedback! Best of luck!


Bill Womeldorf is an energy efficiency consultant and real estate entrepreneur in Boston, MA. He’s typically the one with the reusable water bottle in business meetings. When we all work together, he believes, it’s possible to solve the climate crisis. You can follow Bill on twitter @BillWomeldorf and read more about self-improvement and sustainability on his blog.




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