Green Lifestyle

Published on July 1st, 2019 | by Sarah Dephillips


Reduce Waste by Practicing Mindfulness

In the last article of our zero waste series, we talked about how to reduce waste in categories we don’t even want. Cutting things like junk mail out first is a huge relief. It reduces clutter and is an easy way to put your garbage can on a diet. If you’re taking baby steps toward zero waste living, what’s the next step?

In the spirit of “reduce, reuse, recycle” (in that order), we come to the second half of “reduce”. This is not only reducing things we don’t even want, but also reducing things we mindfully don’t need. And although this theme will continue throughout our series, we wanted to bring forward some of the easiest things to reduce. Because to reduce consumption is almost always to reduce waste. 

The “Mindfulness” Part of Mindfully Reducing

Zero waste living, like any lifestyle change, takes a little bit of self reflection.  We want to treat the cause of waste, not just the symptoms. In our society, we’re encouraged to participate in “retail therapy.” When we’re bored, lonely, frustrated, or discouraged, we often pick ourselves up by buying something. It may be as small as a snack or a drink, or as big as a new car. We’ve all done it to some degree. 

What’s wrong with this? Several things. In the case of buying snacks or drinks as a pick-me-up, these kinds of purchases are often not good for our health. People don’t normally buy carrots as a comfort food on their way home from a hard day at work. It’s hard on us financially, whether we have big spending habits or small ones. They all add up over time. It’s not good for the environment. Almost everything we buy is packaged in something disposable, and many of the non-food products themselves end up in a landfill when we get tired of them or they wear out. And finally, the things we buy often aren’t directly treating the underlying problems. Food can cure hunger, but not loneliness. A new pair of shoes doesn’t cure boredom or even address why we are bored with our lives. 

So it may take some challenging self-reflection in the checkout line. Why am I buying this? Do I need it? Will it add significant value to my life? Will I be glad I bought it tomorrow, next month, next year, or is this an instant gratification decision? Is this item going to directly solve the problem I’m experiencing, or is it just a distraction for me? Would my problem better be addressed with something else? A walk or other exercise? Spending time with a family member or pet doing something we enjoy? Calling or texting a friend? Doing some research on actual solutions to the problem I’m experiencing? Learning a new skill or hobby? Joining an interest group to make friends? Spending time in nature? Let’s stop asking the Earth to bear the burden of our retail therapy and start living our lives proactively and intentionally.

Easy Ways to Mindfully Reduce Waste

Unnecessary junk food snacks and drinks

We all know that what we eat and drink is fuel for our body and quality matters, but not many of us live like we know it. And it just so happens that the foods that are worst for our body also create the most trash. Evaluate your snack and drink habits throughout the day – are you actually hungry or thirsty, or just looking for a pick-me-up? If you consistently get a snack or a drink every day, could you pack something from home that’s healthier and lower waste? Fruits, veggies, and nuts make great snacks. If you crave a flavored drink, you can brew coffee or tea at home for an iced version at work, or flavor some water with fruits or herbs.

Clothes or accessories

Whether it’s clothing, shoes, hats, t-shirts, bags, or cute home decor, this is an easy one to fall into. Have an inventory in your mind of what you have and what you need, and only walk into the store when you need something, and try to only walk out with those things. Try looking for what you need at a thrift store first, where items don’t have as much packaging and you’re keeping used things out of the landfill. 

“Gear” for hobbies

Having hobbies and special interests is great because they often connect us with people, keep our minds or bodies active, and bring joy into our lives. And most of those things require some stuff – surfing, golfing, biking, sewing, playing music, crafting, building, etc. all require some kind of gear, tools, or instruments. However, some of us have more hobbies than we have time (or space) for. Buy gear for the things you’ll do most, and consider renting or borrowing the rest. Many of these things you can also buy and sell used online, again keeping them out of the waste stream.

Kids’ toys and stuff

This one can be especially tough. We love our kids, and they are very vulnerable to the marketing messages that bombard them daily. But for many of them, their toy interests change as quickly as their shoe sizes, leaving behind heaps of unwanted things. Why not start training them young to be mindful about waste? Orient their attention to activities rather than new stuff whenever possible. Don’t substitute your time with them for a new thing. Thrift stores and yard sales can be like treasure hunts for “new” toys, games, and books. And when you’re cleaning out, you can organize a swap party with friends, neighbors, or classmates. Get creative and make it fun! This will help teach kids that retail therapy isn’t the answer to their boredom, either.

Less Stuff, Less Waste, More Happiness

The take-away here isn’t that to live a lower waste or zero waste lifestyle, you have to never buy anything fun and never treat yourself. The point is to evaluate our lives and our purchases so we can have more room and time for the things that matter most. Because often, the things that create the most waste in our lives are also bad for our bodies, bad for our finances, and distract us from what’s truly important. 

Attribution-free images courtesy of Pixabay.

For more on zero waste living, check out

What is Waste

The Invisible Waste: Chemical Toxicity

3 Categories of Stuff You Don’t Even Want

5 Zero Waste Lifestyle Advocates to Follow

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