Last Update: June 1, 2022
When you think of low-waste or zero-waste living, you might think of people carrying glass jars to track their single-use plastic use. Kathryn Kellogg started her journey that way, too. “I started out very focused on trash and plastic. It was a great way for me to learn and to grow, by starting on this one item,” she says.
A self-taught sustainability expert behind the Instagram account Going Zero Waste (as well as a spokesperson for plastic-free living for National Geographic and Chief Sustainability Officer at The One Movement), Kellogg inspires her nearly 350,000 followers to simplify their lifestyles in order to live in a way that’s less costly, less wasteful, but no less enjoyable.
Over the years, Kellogg expanded her view of waste and consumption to include much more than just the single-use plastics she was using (or not using). “If we’re only looking at what we throw away, that’s a missed opportunity, because we have waste in so many other areas of our lives,” she explains. “We waste water, waste energy, waste resources, waste money, so instead of just looking at trash, I graduated toward looking at waste as a whole, rather than just what we put in our trash can.”
In honor of Earth Month, we sat down with Kellogg on Instagram Live to learn more about how going zero-waste led to living a fuller life. If you’re considering starting a similar journey of your own, here are some of the most impactful tips she shared for taking that first step.
Take stock of every area where you create waste.
For Kellogg, simply becoming aware of the waste she was creating was enough for her to start to shift her behaviors. “I started making swaps to save money and to improve my health, trying to look for cleaner, easier alternatives to cleaning products,” she says. “Then I realized that everything I was doing wasn’t only better for my health and saving money, it was better for the planet, and I got super excited about that.” She says after swapping out her cleaning products for lower-waste, more environmentally conscious alternatives, she started to consider all the other areas where she creates waste: first the kitchen and the bathroom, then later, in her closet and other parts of her life.
Take control of the things you can control.
“When we talk about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, you can’t just walk outside and grab emissions from the sky,” Kellogg says. “But plastic and trash is something you can physically see, hold, touch. It’s a great starting point because you feel like you have ownership and control.” While you may not be able to control what others are doing — which can make climate change feel overwhelming — you can control your own daily habits and your impact on the planet. “[Reducing your own plastic use] is a nice reminder that you can make change, and it’s a good one to start with because you can physically see it,” Kellogg says.
Wait before you buy.
While many people think of creating waste in terms of trash, Kellogg is quick to explain that simply overconsuming will eventually create waste, too. Buying clothing, food, and home goods at a rapid rate only adds to the amount of waste being created, so stopping to consider if you can use what you have is always a better solution. “The thing that aided my journey the most is waiting before you buy something,” Kellogg says. “Even grocery shopping — maybe you put it off for a day or two because you have stuff in the fridge that you can get creative and cook. It reduces your amount of food waste by ensuring that every last bit is used.” She recommends taking this mindset in all areas of your life, saying that she often waits 30 days before buying a new clothing item or other non-essential goods. “You realize that you don’t need as much as you think you need.”
Get involved at a local level.
Kellogg is a part of an advisory commission in her city, working on legislation at a local level to help electrify homes that are currently heated with oil, reducing emissions throughout the city. “Go to your city council meetings, get to know your boards, your commissions,” she encourages listeners. “So many people don’t pay attention on a local level, but that’s where we can see some really immediate change.”
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