Things People Didn’t Tell You About… Living Zero-Waste

The autumn season has us thinking about those transition periods in your life—full of excitement, anticipation, but also some nerves about embarking into the unknown. That’s why this month, we’re lifting the veil on some interesting experiences to share what no one tells you about them… until now. Today, Allison Waldbeser, a content writer and photographer, shares with us the six phases of embracing a zero-waste lifestyle.

The Six Phases of Zero-Waste
By Allison Waldbeser

Zero waste. We see it everywhere on social media, so many brands are shifting their products to become more eco-friendly, and people are aware of their waste more than ever. Let’s be real, while I could share with you a list of ways to reduce your trash, my list would probably blend in with all the other hundreds of blogs telling you to switch out your plastic straw for a metal one. While that is all useful information, why not share something more authentic? Like all the phases one might go through when choosing to embark on a trash-less life!

So if you’d like to know MY truth about going zero waste (everyone is different, and we all experience life in a different lens), sit back, grab your metal straw and mason jar, and follow along!

Phase 1: The “obsessive” phase

Once I decided to ditch plastic and reduce my waste, I found myself becoming a research fanatic, Googling everything from “can I buy toilet paper if I’m zero waste?” to “where to buy cheese without plastic”. Everything I did became a question, and the people around me thought I was going nuts! I mean… I guess I understood their perspective – it was all I talked about, and I even created a separate Instagram account to “keep myself accountable” and share with the world. Obsessed much? I prefer to say… passionate. Every time I went to the thrift store, I came home with 5 new jars to add to my collection. Jars became my new obsession, and I was so excited to start filling them up with bulk food.

Phase 2: The “saying no to everything” phase

Although this may seem rude, it’s a great way to reduce any waste making its way into your life. To give you perspective, if you’re at the grocery store and someone is giving out samples with plastic cups, you can politely decline. It’s as simple as “No thank you!”  This requires discipline, which I’m happy to say, you WILL develop!

Phase 3: Composting is your new best friend

After looking at what the main culprit of waste was for me, food waste was something I needed to combat. I found that most of my waste was coming from all my food scraps and untouched leftovers, and while I did my best to use all the food I had before throwing it away, there would still be times when I couldn’t eat it. Luckily, the city I live in offers curbside composting, so all I have to do is carry my food scraps to the green bin and wait for the city to pick it up, alongside the recycling and trash. So easy, right? Yeah…not for everyone. I know that most places don’t even offer curbside recycling, yet alone composting! So in order to encourage others to compost, I did my own research on how to do it.

Just a few pointers: you can easily build your own compost bin at home, or get a small worm bin. You can find a local compost drop off in your city, for some that might be a farmers market or a university that has an environmental club – don’t limit yourself! It’s not impossible to compost your food, it just requires a little more effort.

Phase 4: The “only buying eco-friendly products” phase

One of the main “don’ts” of zero waste is feeding into consumerism. Do you really need that beautiful mason jar? You already have about 50. At the beginning, it was so easy for me to stop buying the not-so-earth-friendly products, and switch over to all the other alternatives such as a a set of bamboo to-go utensils, cloth produce bags, eco-friendly shampoo, a menstrual cup, a metal razor. Yes, in the future I probably would have needed all those things, but if I have any advice to give today, I’d say look at the things you already have in your house first, and use them until you can’t use them anymore! If you have a cabinet filled with plastic tupperware, use them. You’ll save a ton of money using the things you already have than buying all the new, zero waste friendly, products you think you need right away. Practice patience, and the zero waste pantry of your dreams will slowly develop.

Phase 5: The “burn out” phase

I can’t speak for everyone, but from personal experience, once something consumes my life to the point where I’m no longer fulfilled, I burn out. In order to continue making the choices I want to live by, I’ve learned to take a step back, acknowledge that I’m doing great by even taking a reusable bag to the grocery store, and ignore what social media thinks zero waste should look like. Zero waste is different for everyone, and that’s okay! One of my favorite lessons I’ve learned about being low waste is that I’m not doing things in order to prove to others that I’m a good human, I’m doing it because I know a small impact can have a ripple effect and turn into something greater!

Phase 6: The “being honest with yourself” phase

Looking back at when I was first exposed to this lifestyle, I’ve realized I’ve come a long way when it comes to finding a balance between letting myself buy that bag of chips or denying something because it’s wrapped in plastic. With that being said, there are still so many hidden experiences about this lifestyle that isn’t spoken about. Yes, I still have a trash can but I make way less waste than I did two years ago. Yes, I still aim to buy all my food unpackaged but sometimes life happens and I need to get take-out or something wrapped in plastic. Life is about finding a balance between the things that do and don’t work for you. Nobody will ever be 100% zero waste. It’s simply impossible! So next time you find yourself accidentally or intentionally consuming something that can’t be composted, or reused, just know that you have the rest of your day or the next day to plan ahead and consume less to reduce your trash.

Allison is a 25-year-old living in San Francisco, doing her best to live low-waste, and spending most of her time teaching yoga, writing, and going to music festivals. If she’s not visiting her local co-op for bulk food, she’s either outside, spending time with loved ones, or traveling! If you’d like to learn more, you can check out her work at or follow her on Instagram – @allisonanna

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