Old-fashioned zero waste living

The unofficial symbol of the zero waste movement is probably the trash jar. We love it, we hate it, we try it, we empty the jar and forget about it. It’s the focus of trend pieces and a pretty common thing people ask about when they learn you live a zero waste lifestyle. In a word: trendy.

But anyone who lives a zero waste lifestyle can tell you that the skills they’ve learned and habits they’ve adopted to make the lifestyle work for them aren’t trendy at all. Pursuing a zero waste lifestyle has led me to turn to the wisdom of my parents and grandparents and adopt a lifestyle that is far more traditional than trendy.

So if you’re interested in how zero waste and old-fashioned living line up, check out the following:


Hanging laundry

Hanging clothes to dry used to be the only option for drying clothes, but these days many of us prefer to tumble dry our clothes. Hanging laundry to dry saves electricity and can help prolong the life of clothes.


Fast fashion has taught us that clothes are disposable, and that they can leave our lives as quickly as they enter it. In order to make the most of the things we have, zero waste living includes repairing things as they break or wear out. These days, stained, torn, and worn clothes are often disposed of, but learning simple clothing repair is an old-fashioned skill that extends the life of our clothes.


At home food preservation isn’t part of every zero wasters life, but it is certainly a part of mine. Canning was initially very intimidating, but water canning is effortless and pressure canning isn’t even scary. Canning is a way to ensure that the food you can’t eat doesn’t go to waste and allows it to be stored without the need for further resources like electricity needed to keep food preserved in the freezer frozen.


Cooking from scratch

Particularly if you live somewhere without great package free options, you’ll probably at least attempt to make some of your favorite foods that come in plastic. Even if you don’t initially nail the recipes, learning to cook from scratch is a valuable skill that in the past wasn’t optional.

Eating seasonally

While some of us have access to package free produce all year round, regardless of season or where the food was grown, that wasn’t always the case. Even if you don’t garden, eating seasonally can be a way to ensure that your food hasn’t traveled as far to make it to your table. Eating fresh foods in season was simply how things were done before the food system developed for us to eat out of season produce imported or shipped across the country.

Keep in mind that changing your diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet is one of the most impactful actions you can personally take to reduce your carbon footprint; no amount of local meat, regardless of how short a distance it traveled to land on your table, can match the benefits of simply not eating meat and limiting animal products in your diet.

Resourcefulness in the kitchen

During rationing and before dependable food preservation, it was especially important not to waste food. We can look to the past to creatively use our leftovers and food scraps because there are immense resources that go into our food and it’s a resource that many people don’t have enough of. One of the easiest ways to get the most out of food is by making homemade stock, but there are plenty of uses for leftovers and scraps like soaking citrus peels in vinegar to have scented vinegar.



While having a garden isn’t a requirement for going zero waste, it’s pretty common for zero wasters with the space and resources to grow some of what they can. Gardening connects you to the seasons and can serve as a reminder of the immense amounts of work that go into our food and why it should not be wasted.


Vinegar and baking soda can do a lot when it comes to surface cleaning, and whether you’re a fan of plastic scrub brushes or you’ve been cleaning the tub with lemons and salt for years, traditional cleaning methods tend to go hand in hand with zero waste.

Investing in our things

In my family, we have plenty of old things; there are working lamps from my grandparents home in the 60s, antique mirrors, silk robes from great aunts, cast iron pans older than me, and a chair from a great-great uncle still in use. Taking care of well-made possessions means that they can stay in use for more than a lifetime, so let’s take a lesson from those before us and take the time to repair and maintain our resources.

Small and local makers

Conscious consumption often looks like careful buying choices that take into account the resources in products you purchase and the lives of the people involved in production. While it’s difficult to know exactly how things are made, where the ingredients are sourced and what production conditions are, buying locally made goods and goods from small makers has advantages. It’s more likely that you may know someone involved in production and you may be more familiar with labor rights in your country or state. When buying from an individual producer as well you can ask details about the good. Shopping small is good for the community and local economy, too.

Zero waste living finds its way to all parts of our lives, but even though many ideas in zero waste might seem new or counter-intuitive to how things work nowadays, they pull heavily from the past. Whether you love everything traditional or prefer something new, we can rely on some time-tested lifestyle choices to work and reduce our waste.