A zero-waste lifestyle may seem like something for hippies, but it's just about saving the planet – it also saves you a lot of money.

You’ve seen these people before: the ones at the farmer’s market toting everything around in homemade cloth bags. Or maybe it’s your grandmother who washes and reuses every single plastic bag.

I used to think these people were cheap, frugal hippies who spent hours dreaming up ways to save a single cent or to save the earth by keeping a tiny handful of bags out of landfills.

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After learning more about this lifestyle, though, I’ve totally changed my mind. And what’s more, I’m even starting to make changes to incorporate more of this stuff into my life.

Why Go Zero-Waste?

For Bea Johnson, the unofficial founder of the Zero Waste movement, it all started with trying to simplify her life and reduce her environmental impact on the world. She started making small changes, like buying in bulk to avoid product packaging and switching to reusable alternatives for disposable things.

Her husband was originally suspicious of all the changes – especially giving up paper towels – and Bea’s penchant for visiting health food stores where the good bulk bins were.

She challenged him to analyze their budget, and what he found was amazing: their new habits had translated into a whopping 40-percent savings over how much they had been spending before.

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Bea eventually launched a blog, the Zero Waste Home. The blog has gone on to inspire thousands of people around the world to change their ways. Plus, it’s getting bigger every day.

The Zero-Waste Process

Bea uses an easy decision-making process to help her achieve her zero-waste lifestyle: the Five Rs. She applies each of these in order:

  • Refuse: if you don’t really need it, don’t buy it or take it (even if it’s free).
  • Reduce: Simply use less and de-clutter. “The less you have, the less will need to be stored, maintained, and then eventually repaired, and then discarded, and then repurchased,” says Bea.
  • Reuse: Find reusable alternatives to disposable items. Shop second-hand.
  • Recycle: “The zero-waste lifestyle does not mean recycling more – it actually means recycling less, thanks to wise prevention in the first place, with the first three Rs,” Bea adds.
  • Rot: Compost everything else. Bea and other bloggers have developed great systems that even apartment-dwellers like me can use.

How Can You Get Started With a Zero-Waste Lifestyle?

The most important thing is to keep an open mind. “I know what they're thinking, because I was that person myself,” Bea says. “I would have thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, you people must be granola. She must be a stay-at-home mom, who spends her days making things.' It's the complete opposite.”

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Next, start out small and research options available to you. The goal is not to emulate a zero-waste blogger’s life with a tiny jar of trash, but to find what’s the right fit for you, one step at a time. Bea adds, “It took us years and years to build this consumerist society. It's not overnight, of course, that we can achieve a zero-waste lifestyle.”

Getting started with the zero-waste lifestyle isn’t too difficult. Go through your home and sell what you don’t need. Look for reusable options for things you throw out frequently. Try to buy in bulk as much as possible.

“When you buy anything that's packaged, 15 percent of the price covers the cost of the packaging,” says Bea.

“When you buy in bulk, you make an automatic 15 percent savings. Our money is no longer invested in a landfill.”

Finally, look for resources to help you in your journey. Bea’s website also has a great forum where you can find help and tips for your personal situation. She’s even written a book. She has produced the free web-based app, BULK, which you can use to easily locate stores that sell bulk items wherever you are located. Be sure to check out other popular zero-waste bloggers like Trash is For Tossers, Going Zero Waste, and The Rogue Ginger.

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A Final Thought

Now, what can you change to make your lifestyle cheaper and more eco-friendly? As for me, I’m signing off to go work on making a nice set of rags to replace our paper towels. After that, on to the brewery to fill up my reusable growler with freshly brewed local beer!