4 Zero Waste Beginner Mistakes We All Make

When I first learned about the concept of “zero waste”, I threw myself into researching these icons in the sustainability space and learning what the average person like me could do to reduce my footprint. Let me be frank with you and say that I made mistakes when I first started out, and I continue to encounter hiccups along the way.

Here are some mistakes that you might make starting out on the zero waste journey, and how you can address and avoid them.

Replacing ALL of your plastic items by buying new plastic-free products.

There is a valid concern for wanting to have plastic-free containers when it comes storing your food and beverages – bisphenol A (BPA) is a key chemical used in plastics and mimics the estrogen hormone, which has been shown to exacerbate health problems such as breast cancer. However, this does not mean you have to toss all of your plastic containers and purchase new items (this defeats the principle of zero waste). Think about other ways you can utilize your plastic containers: arts and craft supplies, spare buttons and screws, desk organizers, and more!

If you do need to get some plastic-free food or beverage containers, before you purchase brand new products, ask your network of friends and family to see if they have any they are planning to throw out that you can take off their hands. You can also search thrift stores for some great deals.

Stocking up on reusable cotton tote bags.

If you have a habit of collecting cute graphic tote bags like me, this will be a wake-up call. One of my friends sent me an article about how cotton tote bags are terrible for the environment. At first I was skeptical, because single-use plastic is worst invention of all time, right? BUT after considering the resources needed to produce an organic cotton bag vs. a flimsy single-use plastic bag, we should think twice about purchasing these cotton tote bags in the name of sustainability.

If you already have them in your possession, do not beat yourself up over it! Be sure to make the most use of them and take one with you wherever you go, just in case you make any unplanned purchases when you are out and about.

Buying all “essential” zero waste items (especially ordering online).

I love the aesthetic of zero waste items, from stainless steel container sets, to assorted glass cylinders for bulk goods, but if you already have items at home that serve this purpose, you do not need to go out of your way to buy new products! By buying new items for the sake of having that zero waste “feel” at home and when you go out, and getting rid of something perfectly good, you are not practicing zero waste.

Have you heard of the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Think of this principle when you embark on your zero waste journey.


We all want to be Lauren Singer, “the girl with the trash jar” as she calls herself. We can get ambitious with the items we want to divert from the landfills and decide we want to recycle anything and everything. Growing up, I was taught to recycle: blue bin meant glass, plastic, and metals, and green bin meant paper and cardboard. What I did not know was that certain products of each material were accepted by my recycling facility until I visited the SIMS Municipal Facility this year.

To learn what can be recycled in NYC, visit this page. And when in doubt, throw it out. It is better not to contaminate the recycling collection with a questionable item!

Being zero waste is not a perfect science and even the most experienced individuals who have been practicing zero waste can get it wrong sometimes. If you have made any of these mistakes, do not be too hard on yourself! Continue to learn from the zero waste community and achieve the low impact lifestyle you wish to have.