Zero Waste Quick Start Guide


Get rid of your trash can. 

Confronting loose garbage is the fastest way to stop making it. When waste is hidden away in a bin, it stops being a problem- it doesn't smell bad or look bad or assault your senses in any unpleasant way. Removing the palliative creates a foul motivator to change. 


Repair or reuse instead of buying new. 

I'm no Chinese kid from Goonies, but it's nice to mend clothing, fix old things, or upcycle where possible. The boxes our wine and drinking glasses came in are now a shoe rack and sock organizer, respectively. We saved pretty jars from Papa Sapiens and boco to grow our Weck collection organically. I fixed a Keurig with a paper clip once, but can't elaborate because the owner doesn't know I broke it. Instead of buying a new vacuum cleaner, why not see if it can be repaired? Instead of getting new boots, why not take the old ones to a cobbler? 


Make your own. 

If you live in Paris, making stuff saves time. Before people start arguing with me, Carrefour is two minutes away, yet takes me 45 minutes to get just one pack of toilet paper vs. the ten minutes it takes to whip up household products at home. It's faster to reach for pantry ingredients than drive to the grocery store, sit in traffic, wait in line, come back, fiddle with packaging, throw it in the garbage, take out the garbage, etc.


Green your beauty routine. 

In a country where generic nail polish costs $18, cornstarch and bulk kohl are the wallet-friendly choice. Simplify by switching to a multipurpose soap and limiting styling appliances. To save time, I don't mess with balms, lotions, or trial and error toothpaste / deodorant recipes; straight baking soda and bulk oil work just as well. Eliminate excess toiletries and makeup- certain dépôt-ventes accept them for resale. Click here to read about less impact beauty and here for a list of bulk shopping resources in Paris. 


Start a compost pile. 

Composting in Paris can be extremely frustrating, especially since compost site managers in my area are terrible correspondents. Still, individuals can try the freezer method or balcony composting- a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio doesn't smell. If you don't have a garden, give the resulting soil to friends or post on Freecycle. Idecologie has a great list of composting ideas for apartment and small space dwellers. Certain Paris suburbs provide free composters and vermicomposters for residents. 


Switch to natural, zero-waste cleaners.

This was the simplest step for me, and a gateway to everything else. The CDC confirms common household sponges are diseased, plague-sore embossed carbuncles. Switch to  white vinegar, a dish brush and bar soap, and use hemp, linen, or cotton towels to wipe messes.


Eliminate disposables. 

Start with cloth towels and napkins, then move to handkerchiefs and safety razors. Hate cramps and leaks? Switch to a cup. Stop buying dryer sheets- use baking soda and vinegar. Replace sticky rollers with a plastic-free lint brush. Try washcloths instead of makeup remover wipes, and drink tap water. No take-away juice bars in your area? Eat fruit! When entertaining, do as the French do and set out real flatware and dishes.


Shop farmer's markets / secondhand with reusables. 

Buy used and opt for glass, stainless steel, or wood instead of plastic. There's energy embedded in every reusable bag, so use liberally. Keep in your purse or car and, if you forget, get them rather than capitulate to a plastic bag (click here for my plastic-free shopping kit). I'm not sure how people afford groceries at conventional stores and don't know how we could eat without the -considerably less expensive- Paris markets!

Confront clutter.

It's easiest to start with the linen closet and donate excess pillows, sheets, and towels. Evaluate how many glasses, containers, utensils, candles, and magazines you really need. Ease into streamlining your wardrobe by trying a capsule. Switch to paperless billing, remove your name from mailing lists, and, while you're at it, tackle your inbox. Unsubscribing and deleting is a nice exercise in letting go. Emptying my inbox daily helps me reply faster and be more productive in the real world. 


Reduce energy and water waste. 

"Zero-waste" typically refers to municipal solid waste. Reduce energy consumption by heat-retention cooking, limiting hot water usage, doing full loads of dishes / laundry, line drying, ironing sparingly, and maintaining appliances. Plug electronics into a power strip and switch off at night (duh). Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and bike or walk. Collect shower / bath water to flush the toilet or water plants. I scrape dishes, hand-wash, and rinse with a thin stream for a total usage of less than two gallons reusable greywater. Consider updating showerheads and faucet aerators for increased efficiency.

Click here for a downloadable version of this starter guide and here for a zero waste, plastic free master list with hundreds of alternatives.

Paris to Go


  1. Concise, not too scary for the first timer, and very achievable. Thank you so much for this list!

    1. Oh good! Thank you :) I was hoping to break it down into manageable steps!

  2. Nice. Beautiful formatting and very approachable.

  3. Great post. Yes, getting rid of the bin (trash can) is a great first step. As I live with teenagers this wouldn't work for me - I let them spend their earnings how they like (with 50% saved first) and this means they come home with stuff in packaging. I'm confident that in time they will come back to the way they were brought up. Pre-kids I took a small box of rubbish/recycling to the dump each month. I live in a country area and we have many less unpackaged goods available, unfortunately. I get around it by buying bulk online packaged in cardboard/biodegradable bags where possible. It's frustrating.

    I also couldn't get by with as little linen as you. The reason being, I will only use the tumble dryer if I'm dying!! If we have a long spell of wet weather that would mean I couldn't wash my sheets and towels, and that wouldn't be pleasant! Regarding face washers, I like to have a fresh one every day or two, and believe this is helpful in preventing blemishes. Ditto for pillow slips (although I'm mostly too lazy to change them that often!)


    1. That is awesome! You were way ahead of the curve in reducing trash... I like that you are giving your teenagers the freedom to choose for themselves. You sound like a cool mom :)

      I don't use the dryer either, in France the dryers just sort of cook the linens and don't really dry anything, and in the US I didn't have one. But fortunately I've always lived in places that weren't so humid so things dried really quickly. My apartment is really sunny here and I know a lot of Parisians don't have natural light so I understand most people will have more linens. But sometimes I'll meet a client with no kids who has 30 bath towels for one person, and they feel bad because they don't use them and don't have room for more stuff and can't find their beach towels, etc, or their linens get ruined because they are aging on a shelf in the closet. I also like having a fresh washcloth everyday. I know some people don't like that I use a new one and want me to rinse the same one every day but I break out so easily, I think a clean cloth is as important as a clean pair of underwear every day!

  4. Your comment that I sound like a 'cool mom' made my day! I think my kids hate me a lot of the time, as in 'Mum, I just want to buy a tee shirt, I DON'T want to hear about chemicals and child slave labour in China'!!


  5. Hi, Ariana!
    Just to let you know: because of you I am starting zero wasting!
    You are my inspiration. Before I knew your blog I thought this journey was impossible, but now I am so into it!! Thank you.

    Greetings from Brazil,

    1. Lara, that is so, so sweet! I'm so happy to hear that. I can't believe this blog had that effect, thanks so much for the encouragement :)

  6. Finally THE post ! Been waiting for you to compile this.

    I would have laughed at anyone who uttered the words 'zero garbage'. Reading your posts has made me do a lot of things I would have never considered.

    We are at one trash bag a month right now. Mostly from entertaining and take outs that come home. But I am going to find a way to get around that too.

    The hardest for me to give up is my beauty routine. I love my beauty oils and serums and sunscreens. It was easy to switch to diy home cleansers and start a compost.

    Could you write about how you got your husband on board ? Mine is enthusiastic when I am around. And I have a travelling job. He relapses when I am gone. I see lots of comments on your site on how things cant be done coz they have kids etc. I see I am not alone on this.

    When you are surrounded with people who dont care and worse heckle when they hear about this lifestyle, it does feel like a lonely battle.

    - Archana.

    1. That is great Archana! Ok, my husband is the same exact way. I talked to one commenter about this because he is super supportive when I'm around but when I'm out of town he buys plastic cleaning supplies, medicine in plastic packaging (he always gets sick when I'm away), plastic utensils, paper plates, paper towels, etc. And he still has all the plastic stuff left over from the time before, so I've resorted to just giving them to neighbors who can use them, since he will just buy new ones.

      He's made great strides in many areas. He switched to just bar soap instead of gel and shampoo, but he does not want to switch to baking soda for deodorant and toothpaste, so I won't force him. He also uses toilet paper. Food, laundry and cleaning products, I buy and do the cleaning and laundry myself, so he has no issues with that. He doesn't mind me buying secondhand clothes or doing water only, but he buys clothes new himself.

      Every so often, he expresses a desire for a garbage can or wants to buy an appliance that we don't need (he actually bought a fryer last month, it's his money so I'm not going to criticize, and the fries he made were delicious and I reused the oil after). If he wants to buy it, it's up to him, but he generally does realize that there's no need for it and leaves the subject alone. I just try to lead by example. He loves bulk candy and snacks instead of chips, he prefers homemade meals and he loves the way the apartment is so I'm not going to push the other stuff. Sorry this comment isn't really helpful.