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Tips for Your Zero-Waste Journey - Article by Colleen Rosales

Hi, I’m Colleen, and I am an air pollution researcher and an environmental scientist. I’ve started my journey to a zero-waste life less than a year ago. It is not perfect, and I encounter challenges every now and then. I always find myself asking questions like, How much water do I use if I try to wash and reuse this otherwise disposable product? Is this upcycling or simply hoarding? I also tend to get eco-anxious, and I can’t help feeling that my actions may be futile. However, I have learned to accept that every single action, even if not perfect, helps our Earth last a bit longer. Here are some tips that I’ve found to be useful as I start to live a zero-waste life.


1. No need to jump the gun—take your time and do your research.

In the age of social media, there is a multitude of information everywhere! It is not difficult to find information, however, it may be hard to discern which information is actually reliable or correct. As people are becoming increasingly aware and accepting of environmental issues, advertisements for sustainable and eco-friendly products have also become more rampant, such that is it easy to fall victim to “sustainable consumerism”. Do not feel pressured to buy sustainable products because they are branded “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly”.

Take a bit of time to read about the claims, and if you find a false claim, contact the seller or manufacturer and cite your sources when you approach them. The most credible and reliable sources would be peer-reviewed articles from reputable scientific journals, but they may not be always accessible (either they are behind a paywall, and sometimes the information is hidden behind the jargon). If you find yourself overwhelmed by scientific journals, look for reliable scientific or news websites. Also, I find easy-to-read websites the next best thing, and when the websites make a claim, I make sure to double-check them before I make any decision based on their claims.

There are many free websites and e-books from various blogs about practical changes we can make in our everyday lives. Some examples are:

2. Use what you have before buying ‘eco-friendly’ products.

This graphic called “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sarah Lazarovic (based on Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs) perfectly encapsulates a consumerism attitude that is easy to follow. At the bottom of the pyramid is choosing to use what you already have—this is always the most eco-friendly decision. Buying is the ultimate last resort.

Photo by Sarah Lazarovic

3. When buying, always ask yourself, "Can I buy this second-hand?"

Sometimes, buying is inevitable. There are items that you simply do not have in your home and cannot make on your own—for example, appliances and furniture. When shopping, always opt for second-hand items first. There are many accessible ways to shop second-hand items—thrift stores such as Goodwill, online stores such as eBay or Poshmark, or local classifieds. Oftentimes, people wanting to get rid of their items are willing to negotiate prices. Win-win! As for clothes, oftentimes it is easy to fall victim to fast fashion, because it is inexpensive and trendy. However, oftentimes, they are poorly made and not meant to last longer, and thus end up piling in a landfill. Opt for long-lasting and classic garments, even when shopping second-hand.

4. Know what works for you.

This is it—you’ve done enough research, debunked all claims, found the item with the best reviews, and made sure that this ‘eco-friendly’ swap wasn’t available second-hand… Kudos! However, upon using, you find that the item really did not work for you. Do not crucify yourself for making the mistake! Instead, contact the seller and give an honest review. They may be understanding to take back the product, and your feedback will help other consumers decide as well. Keep tabs on the items that did and did not work for you, and make mental (or written!) notes on your reasons. Be careful to not make the same mistakes (i.e., buy similar products) in the future—no matter how ‘eco-friendly’ an item is, if it ends up in a landfill, then it defeats the purpose!

5. Digital waste: Reduce digital clutter.

One of the eco-friendly choices we have is going digital/paperless. However, what we don’t realize is that our digital items also have a carbon footprint. Old files, old emails, random memes, junk files, temporary internet files—if it’s occupying space, it’s using up energy! Regardless if it is stored in our own hard drives, or email servers—each email we send, each video we watch, and each meme we save contribute to our carbon footprint (albeit very small). Make it a habit to clean up your files, delete unnecessary items, and unsubscribe to email newsletters (especially store newsletters that lure you to consumerism under the guise of a special sale or coupons…). Less digital clutter = less carbon footprint!

6. Lastly, be conscientious in all your actions.

It may be difficult and exhausting to think about the effects and repercussions of every single action or purchase we make. But thinking ahead is also an exercise—you will get better in time, and when you’ve done it often enough, it will occur automatically to you. For example, once you’ve come up with your ‘did-not-work’ list, and your regular sources of credible information, it will be way easier to work your way towards a zero-waste life. When faced with the impulse to buy, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”. A helpful trick during digital/online shopping is to place the items you want (but not necessarily need) in your ‘Save for Later’ list. Come back to it at a later time, and then ask yourself—“Do I still feel like I need this?”. There’s one benefit of procrastinating for you!


We hope you take these tips and tricks about zero-waste living from Colleen and try them out in your own life! Remember, it's a process! You can learn more about Colleen here.

Thank you Colleen for your quest blog submission and for anyone interested in participating, please send us an email with your blog post idea.

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