Getting to Zero Waste

Every year the City of San Diego mails out a four-page, glossy, full color, magnetized flyer about trash to residents. You're spare you the diatribe on the flyer itself. If we follow the 2015 handy “What Goes Where” diagram from the City of San Diego we are not going to get to zero waste, ever.

A friend's "trash" and "recyclables" diverted from landfill and energy robbing recycling processed that will be reused.

What do I mean by zero waste?

Zero waste means every effort is made to not mindlessly toss stuff in a plastic lined trash can and divert it to a landfill. Everything that be composted is composted, everything that can be reused is reused.  

Recycling should be considered the final, last ditch effort to recoup some of the energy, time, and resources trapped in the plastic, metal, aluminum, etc. for which we have no purpose for in its current shape.

How do we get to zero waste?

Shopping. Don’t buy. Buy less. Buy Used. Buy bulk. Borrow. Trade. Barter. Forage.

 We can do better! City of San Diego's 2015 mailer to residents.

We can do better! City of San Diego's 2015 mailer to residents.

Compost. Can it be composted? Think beyond food trimmings and leaves. What about liquids? Consider that last bit of coffee you didn’t drink—add it to the compost pile. How about that juice that got lost in the back of the fridge? What about those paper napkins or paper towels? What about that take-out that you forgot to reheat and eat? Compost, compost, compost.

Go beyond bring your own bag. Reuse small bags, refill bottles, jars, and plastic tubs.

Make products. Mix up a batch window cleaner or tile cleaner. Juice oranges: rinds head to the compost pile while the juice is in a jar in the fridge. We still need to figure out what to do with those damn produce stickers! Hate 'em! Brew tea, sweeten, and bottle it in nice swing top bottles that will be a pleasure to use again and again.

Packaging selection. Evaluate products based not only on the product itself but also the packaging. Can it be reused? Can it be refilled? Is someone else or an organization collecting bottles or tubs or other containers for a project? Can it be recycled where you live?

Little things. Swap plastic wrap for beeswax infused cloth. Swap aluminum trays for a pan that will last for years. Reuse bag ties and clips. Discontinue or share magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Use cloth napkins. Use cloth kitchen towels.

Yes, those are most of the beer bottle caps from about twelve years of beers. No, I don't have any idea what I am going to do with them.

Support zero waste efforts. A friend with a small abode saves her “what next?” things in a box and gives it to me. Egg crates, plastic bags, and canning jars will be reused. Bottles will be filled with homemade infused vinegar. Small jars will be reused to for seeds or spices to share. The eyeglass case replaces my case that broke after a decade. The wine corks and bottle caps will be added to my collection. The deodorant and lip balm tubes will be refilled with homemade products.

There's always more that we can do. Just when I think I have all the bases covered, a new what to do with that dilemma appears.

Getting to zero waste is tough. Change, time, thought, and intention are required You might not like the other shampoo or homemade toothpaste or don’t have time to ferment mustard seeds for mustard or just don’t want to make soap. It’s easy to just buy what you need in a brand new jar or plastic bottle. But, many small changes will get us all a bit closer to zero waste.


  • Mary Appelhof (1997). Worms Eat My Garbage. Flowerfield Enterprises, LLC. ISBN: 9780977804511.
  • Malcolm Beck (1997). The Secret Life of Compost: A Guide to Static-Pile Composting- Lawn, Garden, Feedlot or Farm. ISBN: 9780911311525
  • Stu Campbell (1998). Let It Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting. Storey Communications, Inc. ISBN: 1580170234.
  • Grace Gershuny (1992). The Rodale Book of Composting. Rodale Books. ISBN: 9780878579914.