Whether your a beginner to zero waste or an expert, how to define your zero waste goals and achieve them is sometimes a mystery. Here's a tool I find really valuable in defining goals and tailoring it to fit different lifestyles in a world that is full of plastics and trash.
For anyone just getting started on zero waste living, it can be intimidating, overwhelming and seem like an extreme lifestyle change! Not to mention how to fit it into your life, which often involves working around partners, kids, work, hobbies, socialising and other aspects.
Well, I'm here to tell you, there's no need for a jar to show off your lack of rubbish and you don't need to deprive or inconvenience yourself to get started. It wont be easy or perfect, but these tips should get you started and feeling proud despite your visitors still noticing and pointing out that you do still buy things in plastic.
I started by picking and choosing from about a million options and steered clear of the 'crazy' stuff.
As I've progressed, some of the extreme measures now seem perfectly doable and I actually get excited when I find a work around for cutting our waste especially when it saves money and time.
I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, so perhaps I'll never truly be content with progress made, but I'm determined not to let it get in the way of having fun and enjoying the journey and I hope you don't either.
Zero waste living shouldn't be intimidating and isn't a competition. make it about you, your life ...and make sure you have fun!
If you have heard of the Plan, Do, Check, Act method of goal tracking, then you are off to a great start. Basically, it requires that you set a goal and plan how you will go about achieving it. You then go and do those things, check how it went and then act on your results. This helps to figure out if our ideas worked or not, and how to improve on it for next time if need be.
For complex goal areas it can help to keep a few extra notes, but basically this process can be done using a simple layout. Should you be interested in implementing any workplace initiatives during your journey, this type of method can be useful to demonstrate plans, results and improvements, which is always useful when working with little or no budget.
I will add too, that the motto Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle is particularly useful in that order, for any zero waste goals you may have. If we can refuse items in the first place, it solves a lot of issues, but that's not always realistic.
Step 1. Choose a Goal
For some, this is easy, but for others, especially over thinkers like me, this can be a bit of an obstacle.
If you have absolutely no idea where to start, you may want to check out a post I wrote on how to do a bin audit. This helps to determine what rubbish or recycling appears most often in your bins and can highlight areas that will make the biggest impact. (You'll find the link at the bottom of this post).
At first glance you may feel nothing could be eliminated...or that everything should be. Put these thoughts out of your head as this is where many people come unstuck.
If you're completely new to zerowasting, I highly recommend focussing on landfill, recycling or composting. An initial goal can literally be to make sure all items are put into the right bin. On the other hand, if you feel you've already got the basics covered, you can create a more challenging goal.
Make it specific like eliminating takeaway cups, plastic bread bags or finding unpackaged herbs. The more specific your goal, the easier it is to figure out what you need to do to achieve it. Keep clear of goals that are to broad such as 'Reduce Plastic' as this could entail dealing with numerous types of plastics and products with too many actions,and leave you feeling as though you didn't really achieve your goal!
Once you have your goal, go ahead and write it down. I created this template to simplify things, but a notebook can work just as effectively. This can be printed 2 to a page and the same on the reverse.
Step 2. Plan
Jot down bullet points of the things you plan to try out or put in place to achieve your goal. These are ideas of what you think will solve problems getting in the way of your zero waste goal.
For example, if I wanted to cut out plastic bread bags then my plan may include;
>Making my own bread
>Find bakery that will allow me to use my own bread bag
>Give up eating bread
>Find a supermarket with unpackaged bread
>Protest by leaving bread bags in the supermarket
This section should be a list of things you plan, but may not necessarily do. I know I wont give up bread for more than a couple of days, so I need to have a few other tactics up my sleeve to reach my goal, and I'm not really going to throw bread bags on the floor of the supermarket.
Step 3. Do it
Give yourself a week or a month, whatever you feel is enough time to test out the ideas you had. Just a heads up, give yourself a week or more for this section as this will give you some time to put your planned items in place.
Note down what you did do and don't be surprised if something you did wasn't on your original plan.
With the bread bag goal, an example of this could be:
>Bought unpackaged bread at my local supermarket
>Ate less bread (didn't give it up)
>Found yummy artisan loaf at the market, no plastic
Step 4. Check
This step is basically about checking how it went, what you did and assessing the result of it.
>First Bread loaf failed
>Too time consuming to make all the bread we eat
>Located a bakery where I can buy unpackaged bread, but they wrap it in parchment paper
>Plastic Free bread went stale too quick
>Supermarket only has unpackaged bread on Tuesdays
>Needed bread rolls, only found them in plastic
Review if it worked, if it failed or was it too much hassle, what obstacles got in your way and consider what you might need to do differently, research or help you might need.
Step 5. Act
Here is where you add the things that could make it work better. If your plans and actions led you to hitting your goal, that is fantastic. All you need do in this section is note down what you will continue to do on a permanent basis.
Most of us will find many goals just don't have a perfect solution, but they can be improved upon over time.
An example of notes for this section;
>Get better quality flour for home made bread
>Remember to wash and bring my bread bag with me to the shop
>Plan ahead so I can bake bread at the right time
>try using a breadbin to store bread
>Ask bakery not to use parchment paper on my loaf
>Find uses for stale bread (avoid food waste)
>Try the shop/market near work for unpackaged bread rolls
>Put reminder in phone to visit supermarket on Tuesdays
>Find a local redcycle bin for those bags I wasn't able to avoid
Step 6. Reach The Goal
This part is really just to acknowledge that you took action and achieved something worthwhile. Don't worry if it wasn't 100% successful, this is totally normal.
So, going back to the bread bag example, I might write something like I reduced plastic bread bags by 80%, learnt to bake bread and found other options. This means less single use plastic in my life and less waste.
I would consider 80% goal achievement as a success, and at this point, you can start the template with the same goal if you really want to hit perfection (which I don't recommend), or you can move on to your next goal.
If the goal you chose was a little too ambitious, put it on the back burner and choose an easier one for now. It's all about making progress in what feels like tiny steps that add up to a lot in the scheme of things.
Some areas will be utterly frustrating and I always tell people that any change for the better is progress. If you change one thing a month that would be significant over the course of a single year! Don't be too hard on yourself, there will be mistakes and things beyond your control!
If you feel you might get easily disheartened, then go right ahead and choose the easiest goal you can possibly think of. Doing the easy stuff can give us a bit of momentum when it comes to attacking the hard things. And, remember to hang on to your goal trackers so that over time, you have a physical reminder of efforts and achievements.
Have you already begun your zerowaste journey? Or are you completely at the beginning?
What's your next goal going to be?
I hope this guide helps and remember to subscribe to get updates on new posts or you can stalk me on social media. I love hearing from you guys, so don't hesitate to drop me a line or ask questions.
A few other posts that may help with making and achieving zero waste goals: