The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Zero-Waste Pet Parent

Ultimate guide to becoming a zero waste pet parent

You’ve probably heard the saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s usually used when someone’s neglecting themselves to take care of everyone and everything else. Unless you take care of you first, fill your cup first, you have nothing left to give.

That concept applies to living a low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle. Unless you’re taking care of your needs and still enjoying your life–rather than living a panicked, ascetic existence–you need to take care of you before you can impact anyone else. And that’s what this post is about!

Every swap you make impacts your pets’ lives, so why not make good, responsible, self-loving decisions? I’ve outlined a ton here–stick with it because this one’s pretty long–but it’s a game changer. And it’s way, way, way beyond time to tackle this stuff y’all. So, let’s dig in, shall we? 

House & Home

I’m so grateful for my home.

No, it’s not perfect. (HA! That’s an understatement!! Kids + dogs + cats + a full life = imperfection!) There are things that need fixing, things that need cleaning, things that need decorating… but it’s cozy and warm, and it keeps my family close.

But, household stuff creates a ton of waste, partly because we tend to buy too much stuff. Less stuff is better for you, for your wallet, and for the environment?


Well, less stuff manufactured means less resources consumed, and it’s less stuff for you to spend money on acquiring, and it’s less time for you to spend cleaning, organizing, storing, or repairing. Less stuff means you have more money in your pocket and more time on your hands! 

I’ll never be the person who says to live with as little as possible because I like my creature comforts, too. It’s just, when you’re buying or decorating, spend wisely on products with a low impact on the planet. In fact, when it comes to decorating, see if a simple rearranging of what you already have works, or try to upcycle, DIY, or thrift decorative items. (We recently needed a couple new pieces of furniture and found amazing bargains at a scratch-and-dent warehouse!) 

Another thing: Use everything until it’s no longer useful or repairable. Stitch up that hole in your comforter instead of buying a new one. Paint the chipped mirror. Fill a crack in your favorite vase. 

You don’t have to make huge changes or spend a ton of money to have an impact. However, if you do have to do major repairs like your roof, siding, insulation, hot water heater, and so on, there’s an eco-friendly option for everything–my dream, for instance, is a solar roof, but since my roof is in perfectly fine shape, I’m not going to make a dramatic change just yet. 

You can make a positive impact on the planet with the choices you make around your home. Here are 5 quick ones with a lasting impact:

  1. Buy less; repair more. 
  2. Turn your thermostat down two degrees in the winter and up two degrees in the summer. 
  3. Use less hot water: Take a cooler shower or cut the duration of your shower.
  4. Hang your clothes to dry instead of running the dryer. 
  5. Clean with non-toxic low-impact cleansers like castile soap, baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. 

Cooking & Eating

I wrote about this in great depth for our pets, but the same is true for us: Meat consumption is killing the planet.

This is a nonjudgmental space dedicated to inspiring you to take small, manageable steps every day to lessen your and your pet’s impact on the planet. So, I’d never, ever, ever be the one to shout: “YOU MUST GO VEGAN.” Because that’s just not me, and we’re not vegan anyway.

That said, cutting out meat is critical. If this is new to you, start small. Try a Meatless Monday. Swap your regular cow’s milk for a vegan variety. We LOVE pea milk, btw, and our daughter drinks it up like crazy. We buy this one BUT at our grocery store, not Amazon, because we get the full gallon and it’s actually cheaper… that link is just for reference so you can see what it looks like. We also swapped the mayo and salad dressing we buy for vegan varieties that come in glass bottles.

And, we subscribe to this vegan meal delivery service. <— This is quick, easy, and convenient vegan cooking, though I do think there’s too much packaging in the box. Luckily, where we are, it’s all recyclable, but still. The rest of the time? We do our best, and are almost vegetarian, but we’re not vegan.

Again, small steps.

However, making your kitchen low- or zero-impact takes more than just the ingredients. Here are three more big ones to create an eco-friendly kitchen:

  1. Eliminate plastic! No, don’t chuck all your plastic right away, but as things need to be replaced, switch to low-impact kitchenware, like bamboo utensils and metal pots and pans. Cast iron, btw, is amazing, naturally non-stick, and lasts forever! It’s also pretty inexpensive! 
  2. Compost. Divert food scraps, cardboard, and paper packaging from the landfill. Collect it in a backyard compost bin, or drop it at collection sites (like farmers’ markets), or see if your municipality collects compost. You’d be surprised how many do! 
  3. Swap paper products for reusables. No more paper products! Napkins, paper towels, plates, tablecloths–all can be made from machine-washable cloth that you can use over and over again. You lessen your impact and save a ton of money. For paper towels and cleaning rags, I just cut up worn-out clothing and toss them in a basket on the counter.

Finally, don’t forget to upgrade your pets’ diets to low-impact. For more on that, dig into The Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Pet Food

Style & Personal Care

If this post were to have a theme, it would definitely be only buy what you need.

When it comes to clothes and personal care-items, things like makeup and skin care, it’s easy to get carried away. So, let’s tackle these categories together with this process that works for anyone, no matter how much or how little you have in these areas.

First, start with a complete personal care declutter.

  • Pull out all your makeup, skin care, soaps, tools, and other bathroom clutter. 
  • Sort it into piles: duplicates, everyday use, occasional use, never use, and expired.
  • Process the piles. Eliminate duplicates, and list extras on your neighborhood listserv or Facebook IF they’re unopened or a tool, like a second curling iron. If duplicates are partially-empty, combine them into one and recycle the empty. Store the everyday use items where you can access them easily and the occasional use items behind those. The never use and expired products need to be disposed of according to package instruction (for makeup, soap, etc., you can usually just dump it down the sink while the water’s running for dilution unless it has microbeads–then it needs to go in the trash). 

Next, grab a notes doc on your phone or sheet of paper and list out your inventory. This seems excessive, but trust me on this one. Mark any items that aren’t safe, nontoxic, or eco-friendly so that as the product runs out, you can find a replacement that is those things. When you’re at the store, this list keeps you from wasting your hard-earned cash on duplicates. 

One brand we love:

Who Gives a Crap? All our toilet paper we get from here. I’ve also ordered their tissues, though we tend to use diaper cloths for nose-blowing around here. We LOVE this brand. Be sure to check out their philanthropy, too.

OK, so what about your clothes?

Apparel is so personal. The key to eco-success here is to be super honest with yourself. So, let’s walk through a process to make your closet low impact:

  • Take everything out and create a few piles: must-haves, try on (for size, style, etc.), donate, too-worn-to-donate. Anything that you can’t decide on, stick in the “try on” pile to reconsider. Your key to success? Honesty!! Don’t put a single thing in your must-have pile that you think you should keep because it cost a lot or because your aunt gave it to you or because you might fit in it again someday. 
  • Sort that pile of must-haves one more time. Make sure that everything fits, nothing needs to be cleaned or repaired (or, if it does, get that going!), and that you don’t have multiples you don’t really, truly need. 
  • Open a notes doc on your phone and list all the must-haves you’re keeping.
  • Then, sort the “try on” pile by actually, physically putting on every piece of clothing. Whittle it down. Most likely, the vast majority will end up in “donate” rather than “must-have” so be open to that! Any that remain go into that notes doc you started in the previous step.
  • Now comes the hard part: Look at all the clothes you deemed “must have” and make sure that every single piece goes with one or more other pieces. If not, do you need to get something to go with OR does the piece need to go to your donation pile? Make sure everything you have goes with something else; otherwise, you have a full closet of “nothing to wear!” 
  • Whatever’s left, fold or hang. Breathe a sigh of relief at your lighter closet!
  • Finally, take your donations. Then, call your local thrift store or Goodwill and ask if they recycle fabrics. The stuff that’s too worn to donate can go to them. 

If you find you have gaps in your wardrobe–like, when I did this last spring, I realized I no longer had a white T-shirt, a staple for me–note it in your doc. Then, when you’re shopping, you know exactly what you need and won’t be tempted to veer off track–or buy more stuff that you don’t have anything to wear it with! 

I also joined StitchFix last year. I signed up to only receive a box by request, rather than the subscription. So, when I need a specific outfit or something for an event, I simply submit a request to my stylist and get a box sent right to me. What this means is that I’m not tempted to browse, shop around, or add anything extra to my cart or basket that I don’t truly need! For instance, I attended and spoke at a conference last year, and I wanted an outfit for giving my talk, one for a networking event, and one for the black tie function. I got exactly that and nothing more, and I’ve been able to mix those pieces into my closet because I was super specific with what I needed. For efficiency, maximizing budget, and not over-shopping, I highly recommend. 

For filling gaps in basics, I’m a huge fan of Pact Apparel because it’s fair trade organic cotton that is so simple and cool that it fits any style. 

It takes an extra step or two to Google the right option, but there really is a more sustainable choice for just about every piece of apparel you might buy from your running shoes to your winter coat to your undies

Work Life

If you work for someone else, the impact you have might be limited. Most offices these days have sustainability committees that are great to get on, and if not–or if your office doesn’t recycle–talk to HR to see if you can spearhead an initiative!

Another option is to chat with your boss about working from home on occasion. Not every job allows for that, though, so if there’s no way, consider starting a carpool, finding a bike route, or taking public transportation. 

Many offices plow through paper. See if you can go paperless at work, or encourage your office manager to order paper with recycled content. I’m a journal addict, and I keep a paper planner, so I make sure to buy paper products made from recycled materials and then recycle them when the year is through. 

If you run your own company or work for yourself, you can up your impact even more by committing to going paperless, eliminating unnecessary waste, purchasing products with recycled content (even desk chairs–check this out!), or buying office furniture second-hand. 

3 quick-and-easy things you can do to make work more sustainable:

  1. Plug everything into one power strip, and turn it off at the end of every day. Same goes for your lights–all off at the end of the day.
  2. Pack your lunch. You’ll save a ton of money and cut waaayyyyyy back on single-use plastic. 
  3. Get your coworkers on board! Whether it’s fun signs to remind everyone about recycling in the break room or plastic-free treats you bring in, being a positive, helpful, nonjudgmental voice can go a long way in turning the office culture toward sustainability. 

The Fun Stuff

Striving to live a lower-waste or a zero-waste lifestyle shouldn’t feel like a slog. Ultimately, you’re doing yourself, your planet, and your pets so much good by making each individual swap. And there are tons of FUN ways to live a low-waste lifestyle!

The best?

Get outside! 

Seriously, enjoying the outdoors with your pup (or your leash-trained cat!) doesn’t create emissions, it doesn’t use up plastic, it doesn’t do anything other than help you and your pet bond, breathe fresh air, and appreciate our planet even more. 

More ways to have fun with your zero-waste initiatives?

  • Tackle some upcycles or DIYs that speak to you. 
  • Make new friends at your local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
  • Host a zero-waste dinner party for your besties. 
  • Search Pinterest for Meatless Monday or vegan meals to whip up for your family. 
  • Deliver all your donations from your decluttering yourself, so you can chat with the volunteers who collect it. Hear directly from them how your donations make a difference, and get that warm-fuzzy glow!

Ultimately, any single step in this entire list will make an impact. Don’t overwhelm yourself and try to implement them all at once. Pick what makes sense for you and your life, turn it into a habit, then move onto the next thing.

Every single small step matters.

To end this guide, and to help you find a place to get started, here’s a quick list of 10 things that don’t take much time, effort, or money to get rolling.

Pick one, pick a few; just start. 

10 Easy Ways to Green Your Daily Routine

  1. Eat less meat. 
  2. Repair items rather than replacing them.
  3. When you do need to shop, shop second hand. Bonus: You’ll save a ton of money!
  4. Walk, bike, take public transport whenever and wherever possible!
  5. Compost your kitchen scraps. You can do that at home or find a farmers’ market or municipal compost to pass it along. 
  6. Cut the length of your shower buy a couple minutes. Bonus: Turn the temp down a degree or two! It’ll speed ya along and save a ton on your utility bill. 
  7. Take reusable totes to every store, not just the grocery. 
  8. Plant a garden: indoor, outdoor, windowsill, hanging, it doesn’t matter! Plants clean the air, so the more the merrier! Bonus: Plant edibles so your family can enjoy the spoils of your efforts!
  9. Recycle (duh.). But do it correctly. One of the biggest problems in our waste stream is what’s called “wishful recycling,” which means you recycle stuff that you assume is recyclable that isn’t. It contaminates the recycling, likely sending that entire batch to the landfill. So, don’t just recycle: Check your county’s recycling guidelines to make 100% certain you’re recycling correctly! 
  10. Cut out single-use plastic. Think: plastic bags, straws, tomatoes wrapped in film (why?!?!), packaged snacks, and so on.

If you’re looking for more ideas on your zero-waste journey, join our email community AND snag a free wallet-friendly, pet-safe cleaning guide as our thank you for signing up!

Otherwise, thanks for being a part of this community that cares so deeply about the environment and about the pets we love so much.

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