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31 Days to Low Waste




31 Days to Low Waste

Happy New Year! Ringing in 2020 means it has been one year since I officially embarked on my Zero Waste (ZW) journey, attempting to drastically reduce my garbage, recycling, and food waste in an effort to be kinder to our planet.

If you’re looking for a way to be more eco-friendly (as well as save some money and live healthier), this may be the New Year’s resolution for you too! To make things simple, here’s a month-long plan for getting started on your own journey: 31 steps (one per day) to low waste.

Before we get started …

In October 2019, we published an article detailing the reasons we need to reduce our waste. Among them: we’re using up earth’s resources much faster than they can be replenished; recycling is a poor solution (only 9 percent of plastic gets recycled); and plastic waste is poisoning our waterways, their inhabitants, and us. Now we’re focusing on the “how?” of waste reduction.

6 ZW tips to get started

I can’t speak for every person trying to live in a low-waste way, but I can share some of the personal insights I’ve learned along the way.

1. Use it up!

Don’t toss your old products to buy flashy new “eco-friendly” ones: doing so would defeat the purpose. That likely means you’ll have to come back to several numbers on this 31-day plan at a later date—and that’s okay! If you’d like, research where and how to buy/make the replacement you’d eventually like.

2. Find what works for you

Going ZW is a personal journey, and not everything will work for every person. Maybe you love DIYs, or maybe you’d rather buy premade plastic-free products. Either way, you’ll find something that’s easiest and best for you.

3. Don’t get discouraged

In the words of Anne-Marie Bonneau (a.k.a. The Zero-Waste Chef), “We may never reach the zero in “zero waste” but that’s no reason to take zero action.”

4. It’s okay to make mistakes

It’s part of learning. From occasionally forgetting to ask for no straw to being caught on the go without my reusables, I still have ZW fails!

5. Know that these aren’t the only ZW actions

Far from it! Moreover, waste reduction is one way (but hardly the only way) to live sustainably. Plus, it’s often about weighing pros and cons. For example, depending on the scenario, it might be better to buy a local, organic product wrapped in plastic than to drive a long distance to a refill store.

6. Closing the loop

Fantastic news for us Canadians trying to go low-waste: Loop, by TerraCycle, is making its Canadian debut in 2020! I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, to get the inside scoop.

“Loop is a new circular shopping platform aimed at eliminating waste and greatly improving the delivery, design, and features of products,” says Szaky. “The system is the first-ever global platform to partner with major brands and retailers with the objective of shifting from a disposable, where products end up usually in disposal and maybe recycling, to a durable supply chain, where packaging is always reused and product is either recycled or reused and manufacturers own their packaging in the long term. The consumers don’t own the package—instead just the product.”

As Szaky explains, “There is no waste with Loop since the containers will be cleaned and reused and consumers can put any plastic, such as protective seals, back into the tote for recycling.” The containers, which have refundable deposits, are then picked up by Loop, cleaned, and reused—and the cycle continues.

The Loop system is already active in the US and France, with great success. Interested? Sign up now at buydurable.com to be placed on the waiting list and alerted when Loop goes live. Then, the products will be available for purchase through the Loop website at loopstore.com.

The 31-Day Zero Waste Challenge

We recommend downloading this plan as a PDF. You can save it to your phone, or print it out as a visual reminder!

Day Category Action Consider…
Day 1 Planning Define your goals
  • writing down what you’d like to achieve and why
Day 2 Planning Learn your recycling rules
  • researching your municipality’s system (everywhere is different) so you can responsibly deal with waste that you do obtain and know how to choose the best options for packaging based on your unique situation
Day 3 On-the-go Make an on-the-go kit
  • a reusable straw, cutlery, napkin/cloth, chopsticks, travel mug, and water bottle (no need to buy new—use what you have on hand!)
Day 4 On-the-go Prepare your lunches
and snacks
  • packing in reusable pouches, jars, lunch kits, or divided stainless steel containers
Day 5 On-the-go Say no!
  • practising your refusal skills: say no to shopping bags, receipts, straws, free promotional items, and anything else you do not need
Day 6 Bathroom Choose ZW bathroom
  • cotton swabs made from organic cotton and paper, or going without altogether
  • recycled paper or bamboo toilet paper that comes in a box (or use a bidet attachment)
  • solid soap or liquid refills
  • a metal safety razor with recyclable blades
Day 7 Bathroom Choose ZW skin care
  • natural and nontoxic products that come in glass, metal, or paper tubes, or refills
  • a DIY facial serum made out of your favourite skin care oils
Day 8 Bathroom Choose ZW hair care
  • shampoo and conditioner bars or liquid refills
Day 9 Bathroom Choose ZW cosmetics
  • natural and nontoxic styling products that come in glass, metal, or paper tubes, or refills
  • natural and nontoxic products that come in glass, metal, or paper tubes, or refills
Day 10 Bathroom Choose ZW period products
  • cloth pads, a menstrual cup, or period panties
Day 11 Bathroom Choose ZW oral care
  • biodegradable bamboo toothbrush
  • compostable silk or corn floss
  • toothpaste powder or tabs
Day 12 Kitchen Choose ZW food storage
  • wax food wraps or cloth bowl covers instead of plastic wrap
  • cloth bags instead of plastic
Day 13 Kitchen Evaluate your diet
  • if possible, reducing your intake of meat, dairy, and seafood, as these are typically very resource intensive
  • local and organic products
Day 14 Kitchen Choose unpackaged produce
  • bringing your own cloth bags when needed
  • choosing single bananas and “ugly” produce, which often don’t get purchased and are thrown in the garbage
Day 15 Kitchen Go bulk shopping
  • finding a refill store near you or choosing unpackaged foods from the bulk section, bakery, and deli section/butcher
  • bringing your own containers (such as glass jars for wet
  • items and cloth bags for dry items)
Day 16 Kitchen Cook/bake something
  • making a food staple you’d normally buy, such as waffles, crackers, bread, salsa, granola, or salad dressing
Day 17 Kitchen Compost
  • using your city’s green waste program or investing in a compost system (there are even options for apartments!)
Day 18 Others Rethink gifts
  • giving experiences or second-hand gifts, or contributing to a cause
Day 19 Others Refuse junk mail
  • cancelling unnecessary mail and placing a “no junk mail, please” note on/inside your mailbox
Day 20 Others Choose ZW cleaning products
  • DIY dishwashing detergent, glass cleaner, and more (or buy unpackaged in refill form)
Day 21 Others Go ZW with laundry
  • DIY laundry detergent, soap nuts, or refills
  • hanging laundry to dry
Day 22 Others Visit your library
  • making use of the free resources, services, programs, and content
Day 23 Others Rethink paper products
  • handkerchiefs instead of tissues
  • cloths/rags instead of paper towels
  • cloth napkins instead of paper
Day 24 New skills Grow something
  • planting a garden (even a small balcony garden or a small indoor potted herb such as parsley or basil)
Day 25 New skills Repair something
  • sewing or needlework (darn socks, fix a button, try visible mending)
  • fixing a small appliance (learn from a pro!)
  • taking shoes to a cobbler
Day 26 New skills Shop second-hand
  • clothing, toys, vintage home goods, and more
  • looking at thrift stores, online groups, and consignment shops
Day 27 New skills Trade, barter, or borrow
  • trading skills with a friend or neighbour
  • checking out your local online “swap & shop” group
  • organizing a neighbourhood kids’ clothing or toy swap
Day 28 New skills Build your skills


  • knitting or sewing
  • gardening
  • canning or fermentation
  • woodworking
  • urban beekeeping
  • soapmaking
Day 29 Thinking bigger Tell others
  • speaking to friends and family about what you’re doing
  • posting on social media
  • sharing a produce/bulk bag with a fellow grocery shopper
Day 30 Thinking bigger Help your community


  • donating ZW menstrual products to women’s shelters
  • making and giving away cloth produce/bulk bags
  • organizing a litter pickup or shoreline cleanup
  • finding an environmental cause and donating your money, time, or talent
  • helping your school or workplace reduce waste
Day 31 Thinking bigger Keep learning
  • educating yourself about intersectional issues and how everything is related: race, class, poverty, accessibility, disability, and more


The waste hierarchy

Many of us focus on recycling, but recycling should really be seen as a last resort. Instead, follow “waste hierarchy”: rethink/redesign, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (compost). Other great “Rs” to follow: repurpose, repair, and refurbish.

Did you know?

If we continue at our current rate, scientists estimate there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in our oceans by 2050.

Learn more!

  • Bea Johnson: zerowastehome.com
  • Anne-Marie Bonneau, “Zero Waste Chef”: zerowastechef.com
  • Zero Waste Canada: zerowastecanada.ca
  • Story of Stuff: storyofstuff.org
  • Environmental Defence: environmentaldefence.ca/campaign/ending-plastic-pollution

Where to shop?

The website zerowastehome.com offers an international “bulk finder” tool. Natural health retailers often have extensive bulk sections and ZW goods too!

Leah Payne is a writer, editor, mom, and sustainability communicator. Follow her low-waste journey and learn about her work at leahstellapayne.com and Instagram.

A version of this article was published in the January 2020 issue of alive Canada with the title “31 Days to Low Waste.”


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