DEVELOPING ZERO WASTE HABITS Tips for bringing zero waste visions into reality, from your Friends at the MSU Surplus Store & Recycling Center

In 2019 56 MILLION CUBIC YARDS OF DISCARDS were dumped in Michigan landfills. Michiganders dumped 8.5 percent more waste in our landfills in 2019 than in 2018. Michigan landfills also receive waste from out of state and Canada. If that data was factored in, the numbers would be even higher.

Last year, for every resident in Michigan, an estimated 3,037 lbs. of trash was landfilled. What contribution do you want to make this year?


In 2006, 42% of US GHG Emissions were related to the provision of domestically-produced Goods & Food, including packaging. This accounts for extraction, production, transportation and disposal of the items.

Data sourced from 2009 EPA Report, "Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices"

"Landfills accounted for approximately 17.3 percent of total U.S. anthropogenic methane (CH4) emissions in 2019, the third largest contribution of any CH4 source in the United States." (EPA, DRAFT - Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 2019)

In large part, American consumers are encouraged to support a "MAKE > TAKE > WASTE" model of consumption and disposal. So, it may likely take more thought, effort, planning and time to make different choices. But it is definitely possible!

“The arrival of consumerism in Western Europe involved truly revolutionary change in the way goods were sold, in the array of goods available and cherished, and in the goals people defined for their daily lives. This last – the redefinition of needs and aspirations – is the core feature of consumerism.” (Stearns, 2006, p. 25.)

Source: ZenMode.org

The main goal of the zero waste hierarchy is to prevent waste by maximizing source reduction and keeping extracted materials in the system for reuse.

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. --Zero Waste International Alliance, 2004



  • Consumerism is understood as "having one’s sense of identity and meaning defined largely through the purchase and use of consumer goods and services” -- (Roach, Goodwin, Nelson, 2019)
  • Americans are exposed to around 5,000 commercial messages per day, up from around 2,000 per day in the 1980s
  • "The problem is that we do not often see the true ugliness of the consumer economy and so are not compelled to do much about it. The distance between shopping malls and their associated mines, wells, corporate farms, factories, toxic dumps, and landfills, sometimes half a world away, dampens our perceptions that something is fundamentally wrong.” (Orr, 1999)


  • Are there stores that sell bulk goods around us? Do they allow us to BYOC? (Bring your own container)
  • Can we afford buying large quantity of items up front, or do we need to buy in smaller quantities?
  • Can we make time to plan and prep in advance, take special trips to stores to purchase your needs in low impact way, and use DIY recipes for everyday staples to prevent excess packaging?
  • Do we take medications that are in unsalvageable packaging?
  • Do our food allergies limit what we can make from scratch?


  • Changing our habits is hard. There are a number of types of therapy focused on helping an individual make changes to their behavior.
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress. Choose small changes to focus on first, rather than trying to changing everything at once.
  • Connect with others who are trying to live more low waste, or make other lifestyle changes
  • Identify your values, and see which one relates to your interest in reducing your waste. Connecting our consumption/discard choices to our values will help us follow through. Also, psychological research shows that we have a lesser chance of falling into negative mind states when we are living in accordance with our values. So it makes sense why those who make ZW behavior changes report feeling happier—they are living more in line w/ their values.
  • We can only start where we are! Do what you’re comfortable with. Change comes over time.
  • Celebrate and have fun! We can enjoy ourselves while we make these shifts. This is about intention, not deprivation.



When you’re looking to shift what you’re wasting, you probably want to take a minute to consider where your waste is coming from currently. You can do this by simply thinking where you collect trash from at home. Or, you can conduct a more formal waste audit, where you sort all waste into buckets of landfill, recycling, reuse or compost and collect weights for future reference. In general the kitchen is biggest generator. Also check out the bathroom, home office, and other spaces. Make sure a convenient recycling bin in placed any room that has a trash can.


  1. Use what you have. Then, swap disposables for reusables. EarthHero sells various brands of reusable alternatives for everyday products when you exhaust your supply of disposables.
  2. Simplify -- can you go without?
  3. Plan in advance -- meals, outings, etc. This will help prevent against impulse purchases that may produce unnecessary waste. Get used to keeping reusable shopping bags in your car and bringing your reusable water bottle with you.
  4. Think about your purchases. When you need to buy something, prioritize looking at what's available secondhand. If buying new, opt for items made with recycled content. For consumable items, seek to buy them in bulk or minimally packaged.
  5. Maintain a functioning home recycling station -- don't let it overflow! Know where you can take your items and what the drop-off hours are.


  1. DIY bathroom cleaning scrub.
  2. Locally-made deodorant in a reusable or recyclable package.
  3. Michigan-made shampoo bar, refillable shampoo/conditioner, or large-size bottles.
  4. Opt for bar soap which is unpackaged or in a recyclable box rather than liquid soap in a bottle. If you prefer liquid, find it in large quantity.
  5. Switch to a reusable safety razor with replacement blades rather than disposable plastic razors.
  6. There are a few options for tube-less toothpaste, ranging from natural powders to bite-sized pellets. Prefer to stick with what you're used to? Upcycle the tube when you're done.
  7. Install a bidet. Cut back on toilet paper, tubes and the plastic packaging it comes in.
  8. Keep a recycling bin next to the trash bin to capture any recyclable waste.

For more ideas, view our guide on Reducing Waste in the Bathroom.


  1. Waste less food. Keep leftovers at eye level in fridge or designate a "use first!" bin/section. Store produce in its preferred way to help items stay fresh longer. Freeze veggie odds and ends to use for soup stock.
  2. Buy less packaging. Bring reusable/refillable containers to stores that have bulk items.
  3. Plan meals. Consider batch cooking to pack your own lunches and avoid buying take-out on days you don't feel up to cooking.
  4. Make your own. What do you buy often that you can easily make from scratch?
  5. Pop some popcorn. Enjoy this salty snack without the wrap!
  6. Learn to compost and garden. Start off small and simple and work your way up.
  7. Review your coffee routine. Use a refillable coffee filter or other apparatus that doesn't require a filter, such as a French press or percolator.
  8. Swap reusables for disposables. For example, choose a silicone mat instead of tin foil, use beeswax wraps or a plate to cover bowls, pack food in reusable silicone bags and tupperware instead of plastic baggies.



Before and After: Pallet Patio Cooler and Upcycled Bar Cart. Shop for pallets at the MSU Surplus Store and create your own patio cooler with this tutorial. Love the vintage look of the repurposed typewriter desk? This signature Spartan Upcycle bar cart is for sale. Make your own unpaper towels (aka rags) from old t-shirts to cut down on pesky paper towel waste.

Before, after, and during: Repurposed bar cart, upcycled pallet patio cooler, homemade unpaper towels. Photos courtesy SSRC staff.


  • Food waste makes up 15-22% of our waste stream (depending on the particulars of the statistic).
  • Keep yours out of the landfill! View our guide on Backyard Composting!


Are you a MSU staff/faculty? If so, it might be time to join the Waste Warriors! The Waste Warriors program of the MSU Surplus Store & Recycling Center cultivates waste reduction and the utilization of waste as a resource by training and empowering the MSU community to promote these practices among their peers. Designed to reduce the amount of waste disposed of on campus, the program builds knowledge and leadership by empowering individuals who are passionate about working with others and promoting action to champion goals outlined in the SSRC strategic plan.