Zero Waste Guide

Zero Waste: a practical and open guide on how to eliminate waste and single use from our lives

This guide on how to live Zero Waste is a collective and ever-growing text, a collection of ideas for those who want to act and develop different habits, foster the real concrete change that everyone is talking about, and ultimately help the planet to find a sustainable balance for human beings and all the other species that populate this gorgeous, huge ecosystem that we call home.

We don’t want to be identified as consumers anymore, but as participants. We vote with our money, and we strike every day against environmental pollution and climate change through simple and daily choices, starting from a very simple premise: the first great act of ecoparticipation is to not produce waste at the source.

Open guide to how to live zero waste

After months of research, curiosity, dialogue and practical daily life, Inspire is happy to introduce to you an open guide to eliminate single-use from your life and live Zero Waste – and we are not talking just about plastic, but about all single-use products that fill our daily lives without us even noticing.

As we said earlier, it’s a free and collaborative project! Do you have something to add? Write us! We’re happy to implement this guide with your ideas, to create what we really wish for: a version that can be as rich, informed, helpful, and up-to-date as possible.

A necessary premise

Before putting into action any kind of solution, method, contraption or trick, as valid as they may be, we want to point out that for us there’s no Zero Waste life without a radical change within ourselves and the mentality with which we face every single day.

Indeed, to live Zero Waste means to revolutionize our own lifestyle: it means to come out of the consumerist viewpoint of uncontrolled purchasing, massive owning, and indiscriminate squandering, which is incredibly rooted within all of us but that causes deforestation, the disappearance of biodiversity, pollution and, of course, the climate crisis.

how to live zero waste

Fear not: we’re all in the same boat! There are no heroes or villains, just many enterprising rowers.

Therefore, to eliminate waste from our lives doesn’t mean substituting a single-use product with its biodegradable or compostable alternative available on the market, but to find a way to do without or replace it with something that doesn’t just end up in the garbage, if not after years of usage, and that can be recycled at the end of its life.

Recycling is not a solution

Another crucial reflection is that, for the way manufacturing works at the moment, recycling is not a solution, but a particularly comfortable excuse that allows us to not change our lifestyle without weighing down our conscience. 

As Annie Leonard rightfully said: if you entered your home and found it flooded, with the kitchen tap running, what would your first action be? Would you first close the tap, or mop the floor, with the tap still running?

zero waste ideas

Recycling without first ‘closing the tap’ of consumption is exactly like mopping the floor while the water is still running and flooding everything. Logically, the first step is to stop the production of new materials and new single-use products. Only then can recycling become an actual solution.

How can we stop production? By asking companies to stop producing that specific product, of course. This means petitions, boycotting, political actions and brand audits. But first and foremost, it means not buying that specific product anymore, aka that future waste. Companies only produce stuff that is demanded by the consumer. No purchase, no production.

So, more generally speaking, we need to reduce consumption. Reduce is the keyword of a Zero Waste lifestyle: to reduce the shopping, the squandering, the quantity, the immediacy…and ultimately, the pretenses. To come out of the “fast-life” and adopt the perspective that the majority of purchases we make every day are for products we DO NOT need and that, on the other hand, actually poison us.

The three questions that help us change

There are three questions that can help us change and adopt a lifestyle shaped around the Zero Waste philosophy. When we are about to buy something, from the supermarket to any other kind of shop, let’s try to ask ourselves:

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. If yes, is there an alternative with less packaging/waste products?
  3. Can I improve the quality of this purchase by substituting it with a product that would be more sustainable and durable, which would not become useless within a short amount of time, forcing me to buy a new one?

Because the point is not to stop making purchases once and for all, it’s impossible. The point is to buy consciously, which means to always keep in mind the impact of the product we’re purchasing and of the action we are fulfilling, reducing as much as possible our consumption and being aware that there’s always a more sustainable alternative.

We know that in the era of consumerism — of fast times, of work that doesn’t leave space for life, of whims, gadgets and more-the-merrier attitudes — what we are about to say seems absurd, but: the less we consume and the less we own, the happier we will be. Not only because, by consuming and owning less, we free ourselves from that feeling of perennial dissatisfaction that we all know so well and that consumerism was thought to create, but also because, concretely speaking, we find out that we can live well anyways spending less. And, looking at the future, needing less money means, consequently, working less. To do without fulfilling every single desire that crosses our minds, to learn to distinguish momentary whims from true needs, to reduce our attachment to material objects are all actions that can help us feel in charge of ourselves and satisfied with our existence.

How to go zero waste

By saying all these things, we are referring to a socio-economic system that doesn’t exist yet, whose beginning depends directly on us, from our will and desire to create it. In exactly the same way we put our time, effort, and money into this current socio-economic system, we can choose to act so that new systems may be established, especially starting with our smallest daily actions.

If we don’t start to live by this set of ideas, there won’t be any suggestions or Zero Waste alternatives that can work, because the first great way to not produce waste is to not produce waste!

Let’s team up!

Another little necessary observation, precisely because we’re aware that the consumerist lifestyle doesn’t leave any space for life: we realize that teaming up is one of the best and most effective ways to cut down on consumption, waste and costs.

Teaming up can mean many things.

Zero Waste solutions sustainability

Like buying an object together with somebody else. Or choosing someone – on a rotating basis – to be in charge of doing package-free shopping for an entire group of people. It could mean creating or joining an Ethical Purchasing Group to buy local products for all. It could mean helping each other to produce something homemade, from food to toothpaste. In a nutshell, it means helping each other, exchanging objects, ideas and time, in order to live a more Zero Waste kind of lifestyle.

What’s outside the famous box?

When we talk about waste, the majority of us think mainly of the famous organic-mixed-paper-plastic-glass-and-metal kind, meaning that waste, mainly coming from food and body-care packaging, that every day ends up in the bins of our homes. And it’s absolutely right. That is the garbage that fits in the box that we already know, besides being the most frequent and easy to erase from our lives.

But what’s “outside” this famous box? What happens when we leave behind those models and ways of life where the consumerist system strongly wants to keep us? To think outside the Waste Box means, as we’ve already said, to keep in mind that, even if it gets presented to us as durable, every object we buy is a potential piece of garbage, and that is what it will soon become. The piece of clothing that is fashionable only this part of this year; the furniture and decorations of our homes; the toys of our kids. Any product that comes to our mind possibly falls into this category, especially if not bought with awareness and for a truly durable use.

Then there is the “invisible” waste: the emissions of the vehicles we drive, the resources used to create and carry the products that we consume in our lives, the sub-products of anything ever produced on Planet Earth, all the unsold products, the servers of the websites and apps we use every single moment of the day, even the water that flows while we brush our teeth. Long story short: “things” that might not end up in the bin, but that pollute anyways and contribute to our negative and disruptive environmental impact.

sustainable solutions to stop pollution

This is why to adopt a Zero Waste kind of lifestyle means to change the way we think and how we look at the world, to question our actions and to not underestimate the importance of any gesture, as insignificant as it may seem just because it may look like a “drop in the ocean.” But what better metaphor, considering that the “ocean is made of drops” and our Planet, exactly like us, is made mainly of water.

How to start?

When we talk about how to live without producing waste, as we’ve said, we’re all in the same boat…but what we haven’t said yet is that we all forget about it.

The consequence of this forgetfulness is that we end up being overwhelmed by our goal: “starting tomorrow I’ll start living Zero Waste. I won’t produce any waste, not even a grain! But how? Impossible!” Discouragement sets in, possesses everything and giving in is a matter of seconds. That’s all folks!

However, this approach is as much “consumerist” as the one we’ve been trying to let go of: it’s a classic case of everything at once and all or nothing. The habit to seek fast and lightspeed fruition, the immediate solution, comfy and ready-to-use, causes us to want to give up on the endeavor we view as impossible. But no. Don’t worry, be happy!

Perfection doesn’t exist, especially in a world where living Zero Impact is virtually impossible. Nobody is expecting that you’ll transform into the Zero Waste World Champion and, even if tomorrow you become one, nobody expects you to become one overnight. To take the first steps, we all start from where we can. A gesture, two, three if we really want to get in the game big time.

Because living Zero Waste means to change our lifestyle, nobody changes in a day, especially when we talk about daily habits.

Find what’s easier for you, whether it’s a reusable water bottle, making homemade products, or any other action that would allow you to eliminate once and for all at least one type of garbage from your life – and dedicate yourself to that.

As always, one thing leads to another. Your rhythms will relax, and you’ll spontaneously find pleasure in reducing your purchases, consumption, and needs. You’ll rediscover the pleasure to simplify – by simply pronouncing this word that is so magical, we can already hear your sighs of relief.

Happy traveling then, happy first steps, or happy continuation for those who already started. And don’t forget, we’ll be here, ready to help you and to walk a bit of the road together with you every time you need us to. The boat is the same for us all, remember?


How to read this guide

While reading this guide, you might find repetition throughout the various topics.

That’s because this guide is designed to be read either fully (section by section), or by jumping from one item to the other. So, it’s possible to begin with the section you’re most interested in and that you have the best chance at starting from.

General suggestions

Be mindful of how we move around

As we’ll repeat many times, emissions are waste too and, especially in the case of planes, they are among the main polluters on the planet. According to an ever-growing number of scientific studies, together with the adoption of a vegan diet, quitting air travel would be one of the best ways to cut CO2 emissions and begin to remedy the environmental disasters we’ve caused up until now.

So, whether it’s a large trip or a simple daily commute, being mindful of the means of transportation we use is crucial. Adopting the one that has the least impact on the environment is the Zero Waste solution.  

If you find yourself in the condition of flying, then you can choose to offset your carbon footprint with a non-profit dedicated exactly to this: Atmosfair

Online purchases

To stop buying online products, especially on big e-commerce sites like Amazon, is one of the most Zero Waste and socially useful actions that can be done. Indeed, it allows us to eliminate all at once the packaging used for shipping, the pollution involved in transportation, and helps combat mass production and workforce exploitation.

Let's meditate

Meditation (in all its myriad forms, like for example mindfulness) is not a Zero Waste solution in the most literal sense. However, it’s a powerful tool accessible to all – and we repeat, all – that can help us start and embrace the change we’re looking for at the core of ourselves and our lives that we talked about in the intro to this guide. 

Therefore, we chose to dedicate an entire section of this guide to meditative practices, because we strongly believe that, even if on one side they’re not a practical solution, they are surely a great starting point, and a positive action for our lives almost like eliminating once and for all a single-use piece of garbage.

Let's not throw away what we already have just because it's made of plastic

In the last few years, we’ve been witnessing an actual war against plastic. As much as we fully agree that it’s an extremely polluting material, if we already own a non-single-use item made of durable plastic, let’s not get rid of it only to replace them with items made of other materials: it would become waste. Let’s try to value as much as possible what we already have, and let’s apply this awareness to our future purchases.
Indeed, let’s keep in mind that often the problem is not the material with which a product is made, but its single-use nature and, therefore, its mass production. Even a biodegradable or compostable product that is made for single-use has an incredibly negative environmental impact.

Let’s not blow it all up in…smoke!

Cigarette filters are among the most common, polluting and dangerous pieces of garbage that exist nowadays. This is because of many reasons: when they get thrown on the ground, they inevitably end up in the sewers and, consequently, in the sea. But also when they get disposed of properly, they are still a perfect example of single-use waste.

Electronic cigarettes are not a real solution given the large number of plastic vials used for the liquid. If we zoom out even more, they represent another future technological waste. 

For better or for worse, the only truly valid solution is to quit smoking. We know that it can result in a delicate argument for many, and we don’t want to fall in the classic lecture: “it will be good for the environment, and yourself!”, but among the various solutions, quitting smoking surely is one of the most radical Zero Waste actions we can embrace.

Repairing instead of rebuying

Deciding to repair a broken or malfunctioning object instead of buying it again is, nowadays, an almost revolutionary act. It’s true, sometimes, especially when dealing with electronic devices, since it can be more expensive to repair than rebuy. But if we keep in mind the long-term cost, a decision to repair will turn out to be the most economic one.

As a matter of fact, this kind of reasoning can be done in advance: choosing to buy an object only if it is easily repairable is a perfect example of a Zero Waste choice. This is also because, in most cases, a non-repairable product is often synonymous with low quality, or planned obsolescence — both synonyms for extremely high environmental impact, poor production, and consumerist approach.

Opt for second-hand

If we find ourselves in the position of making a purchase, then opting for second-hand products is the Zero Waste solution we’re looking for. From shops to flee markets, but also passing the word between friends and family, let’s consider this opportunity first, keeping also in mind that besides being the most sustainable, it’s often the cheapest one.

Grocery shopping and other purchases

Local purchases

The majority of single-use waste is produced by big brands, the so-called corporations that distribute their products on a global and mass scale. They not only produce an alarming amount of single-use packaging but also heavily affect the local producers’ and family-run-businesses’ possibility to work and earn, regardless of the product we are talking about.

To buy local products reduces mass production, emissions due to transportation of goods, supports the local economy, allows us to enter in direct contact with an artisan and supports package-free shopping. If it’s food we’re talking about, this can also mean buying seasonal products, grown in a more sustainable way.

To choose our local market, the small neighborhood store, artisanal production, or that of our direct neighbor – if not our own – helps to reduce consumption, costs and waste, live a healthier life, and strengthen the local community through teaming up.

Create an Ethical Purchasing Group

Ethical Purchasing Groups are a great way to reduce waste, transportation costs, time costs and save money. We’re talking about groups of people that choose to purchase something together in bulk, instead of each buying their own portion. These purchases are often made directly with local manufacturers, who apply a healthier production not only in terms of the quality of the product but also the quality of the work itself.

If an Ethical Purchasing Group doesn’t exist near us, we could start one. And if we don’t want to collaborate with people we don’t know, we can consider creating one with our friends. For instance, a group of 3 or 4 friends, colleagues, or people with whom we share hobbies and sports can already be an Ethical Purchasing Group, especially if we have a place to meet regularly where we can have our purchase delivered and shared.

Package-free and on-tap products

There are plenty of shops and supermarkets where we can find package-free products. The most common ones are definitely those selling home detergents, but shops selling all kinds of on-tap products are constantly increasing, including those selling food.

This will allow us to buy the product without its accompanying packaging, reducing not only waste but cost as well.

Small practical tip: once we’ve found the shops that interest you (check out our map map…and tell us about the ones we don’t know yet!), instead of buying new containers for new purchases, let’s reuse the packaging of the last product you bought. Things like detergent bottles, glass jars, egg cartons, paper bags for bread, pasta and cereals, Tupperware. And then we can unleash our imagination!

Net bags for fruit and vegetables

Even if, best-case scenario, the fruit and vegetable bag provided to us by the supermarket is compostable, it can still be replaced by a Zero Waste kind of solution: reusable cotton net bags for groceries.

The same goes for bread. However, in this case, instead of a net bag, we suggest a pillowcase or a bag made of cloth, so that it can be kept better. If we don’t have that kind of bag, we can make our own with old sheets, pieces of clothing or shirts.

Reusable bags for groceries and shopping in general

To replace grocery plastic bags, or any-other-kind-of-purchase bags (even if compostable, because they’d still be single-use!), using a reusable bag is a Zero Waste solution that is very well established and can have a big impact. Moreover, we’re talking about bags that, thanks to their resistance, can be used to carry many different kinds of things and not just our groceries.

Generally speaking, where we don’t need one (and regardless of its material), we invite everyone to refuse single-use bags when purchasing something, using our own back or backpack, carrying with us a foldable reusable bag wherever we go, or simply carrying the product in our hands without necessarily putting it in a bag.

Where to start?
  1. Local purchases
  2. Reusable bags and nets for groceries and all kinds of purchases 
  3. Package-free and on-tap products


Food waste

Food that’s left to rot becomes waste. Food waste can be eliminated at the very start with smart grocery shopping: making prudent and moderate purchases, keeping in mind the expiration dates, and not buying more than what we actually need are the best solutions to avoid throwing food away.

In this case, before going grocery shopping, it can help to schedule our week’s meals, or those of the next few days, and in general make a detailed shopping list. That way, we’ll avoid promotions and temptation and buy only what we truly need and what we’ll actually eat.

We also have to be aware of the fact that this tendency to buy more than what we need happens not only due to poor organization of our shopping and our own meals, but also because of food overproduction. Indeed, we’re so used to finding food how, where and when we want it that we don’t perceive its incredible preciousness and how inhumane it is to waste it. This is why, as we’ll shortly see, opting for small producers and country markets can help us make more thoughtful purchases: limited availability, both in terms of quantity and seasonality, can help us analyze what we truly need and act appropriately.

Another solution, buy the ingredients instead of pre-made food.

Let’s think of what we eat

Another Zero Waste solution, which is definitely related to food waste, is to think about what we’re eating: what ingredients does our food contain? How was it produced? Where is it from? What’s the brand?

Choosing to buy products that are made with local ingredients, produced sustainably, don’t belong to big brands (such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s or Unilever), are package free, and come from short supply chains are all excellent Zero Waste solutions because they zero out many different kinds of waste: food waste, mass production, resource exploitation, single-use packaging and long transportation.

Eat local and seasonal

We’re repeating ourselves here but it’s true! This is a solution that can help lead to many other positive actions. Choosing to use only local and seasonal ingredients is the best way to eliminate waste and squandering, fight food overproduction, and eat in a healthy and correct way.

Fishing nets and intensive farming

Even if it’s been scientifically proven that applying a vegetarian diet (or drastically cutting out meat and fish) has a huge positive impact on the environment and on our health — if we don’t want to renounce meat and fish, being mindful of the way our food has been farmed or fished is crucial and is one of the most important Zero Waste actions that can be done.

The main action is first becoming informed on the sources and production systems of the protein that we buy. Consequently, the second Zero Waste action is to not choose products that come from intensive farming (even if labeled as biological and eco- friendly). That means not buying meat or fish at supermarkets and not buying fish sourced from intensive fishing. Indeed, fishing nets are among the most lethal and polluting pieces of waste there are. Once left at sea, they become useless. They turn into deadly traps for other animals, destroy seabeds and coral reefs, and they continuously release toxic and poisonous substances.

Not only will nature be positively affected by our choices but our health too. Choosing our food using the above criteria will help us reduce meat consumption (which in excess can harm us) and help us avoid eating the huge amount of antibiotics normally contained in meat coming from intensive farming (both land and water products) where it’s fed to animals both as a medication and food.

A note for vegetarians and vegans

Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet yet consuming huge quantities of soy (or products that are not local such as avocados and bananas) still has a devastating impact on the environment. Packaged products such as fake meat or large quantities of cheese and eggs don’t help the environment, the animals of the intensive farms from which these products come from, or your body.

To adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet that is consistent with the ideals behind them means to get our food from local manufacturers, small and seasonal. This will allow you to have a balanced diet that is also much more sustainable.

All the solutions to get rid of plastic (and bioplastic) water bottles
  • Filter jugs: If the water is not heavily polluted, and it’s only a matter of lime or chlorine for example, then the perfect solution for filtered water can be a jug equipped with a filter capable of being changed periodically. Small trick: very often these filters can purify longer and many more liters of water than what is written on the box. Before changing it, let’s make sure that the filter is actually useless. We can determine this by the taste of the water or the formation of a lime coat in the pots and boilers.
  • Active carbon: Another option if the water is not heavily polluted. Active carbon can be extremely helpful, besides being the best Zero Waste solution. Pieces of active carbon are left in the water in order to purify it. They generally last for a few months. In the end, they can first be used as a deodorant for our shoes and wardrobes, then as fertilizer for plants and therefore not make any kind of waste.
    It’s possible that they release a thin black powder into the water that doesn’t pose any problem whatsoever for drinking. It’s tasteless and odorless.
  • Purifying system: This too is an amazing Zero Waste solution, and according to the purifying system we choose to install, it even works well for heavily-polluted water. Some purifiers are medical devices too, and they can be deducted from taxes if our country allows it. The limiting factor of this solution is definitely its higher expense. However, in the long run, it will turn out to be more convenient.
  • Springs: If we have a spring of good water near our home or a public fountain for purified water, we can choose this option. Here we have two options: a set of 10- liter glass jugs with which we can stock up on water for a long time in case the spring or the dispenser are not particularly close, or a set of normal glass water bottles to refill every 3 or 4 days.
  • Fizzy water maker: If the only reason we still use plastic water bottles is that we love our water fizzy (and in case we don’t have a fizzy water dispenser near you), there are many kitchen devices that can carbonate our water. They are more expensive than a bottle of water, of course, but they last forever and in the long run, they turn out to be much cheaper.

Moka machine and reusable pods

For the Italians among us, it might be weird to find the Moka machine listed as a solution. However, considering the explosion of pod-based coffee machines that has happened in the past few years, here we are!

The Moka machine, made in Italy, hence an icon of the most famous coffee in the world, is the most Zero Waste coffee solution out there. It doesn’t create any waste, and it’s endlessly reusable. But if we really can’t do without your pod-based machine, then the next Zero Waste solution is to use steel reusable pods that we fill up each time with coffee grounds, all without adding kilos of waste to our bins. We’d also like to remind everyone that, even if we’re talking about a 100% compostable single-use pod, the energy and resources needed to produce, trade and dispose of it are still significantly more costly than what a typical coffee should “cost.”

If it’s filter coffee we’re talking about, then a reusable cotton filter is the Zero Waste solution.

Bulk tea and metal filters

Also, in this case, we’re not talking about it just for the sake of the planet, but also for our own. The majority of tea bags are not only a piece of garbage, but, when they come in contact with extremely hot water, they release into our mugs a myriad of microplastics that all end up directly in our bodies.

The best Zero solution is bulk infusions, which thanks to steel nets and filters allow you to make as much tea as you like while completely zeroing waste production.

Indeed, one must keep in mind that, as stated above, any 100% compostable single-use tea bags still require a massive input of energy and resources that is significantly more costly than what a cup of tea should cost.

Prepare our own snacks and sandwiches

Eating out is one of the moments when waste production increases the most. Snacks, sandwiches, and slices of pizza all come with a single-use wrap, often made with highly-polluting materials. However, this is also true for many of the snacks we consume in our own homes!

Preparing our own snacks, such as fruit bars and cookies, or using reusable containers and bee wraps, can be a great way to reduce waste.

Speaking of which, snacks such as popcorn can be cooked in the moment, instead of buying them in multiple plastic bags. The same goes for many other products such as dried or candied fruit that can be easily bought in bulk.

Last but not least, a reflection: in some cases, the only truly Zero Waste solution is that of not consuming a certain product in the first place if we don’t agree with the way it’s been packaged – a choice that will have a positive outcome for our health too since the majority of packaged products are full of preservatives and other ingredients that are notoriously bad for our health. So let’s try to change our attitude in the very beginning, and let’s ask ourselves if we really need to consume all this quantity and variety of snacks and candies, or if we can limit or eliminate them.

Waste oil

Waste oil can be a lethal waste if not disposed of properly. And we’re not talking about frying oil only but also that of pickles and similar items. If dumped into the pipes of our sinks or toilets, it ends up in groundwater, polluting it irreversibly.

The solution is simple: put waste oils in glass jars, bottles, or aluminum tanks, and periodically dispose of it at a nearby drop-off point or facility dedicated to managing special waste.

Fruit juices

Fruit juices are basically unavailable on tap. They also represent a food that is packaged in a particularly polluting way. While exceptions can be made for certain costly brands that use glass bottles, the majority of brands use plastic or tetra pak (which is even worse than plastic because it’s basically not recyclable).

What’s more, if we’re talking about monodose cartons, we ask even more so for everyone to reconsider the actual purchase of these products, considering the huge amount of waste that gets produced with just a single one of these cartons. There are definitely much better glass alternatives, or we can choose to use a small flask for on-tap juice that’s come from a bigger, less impacting package. 

However, fruit juice is still a food that we should question whether we really need to buy it or not. Fruit still remains the best solution.

Vending machines

Whether it’s the espresso cup with its little stick to steer the sugar (even when we have it without sugar or milk), or the plastic bottle of our drink, or the wrap of a snack, automatic dispensers are the epitome of single-use and here the only possible Zero Waste solution is: don’t use them.

In case we are the manager of a public place, we can choose to find alternative solutions (like returnable bottles or a nearby cafe) and raise awareness among our visitors on why we chose something different.

If we really can’t do without automatic machines, we can encourage our visitors to carry their own cup and spoon and make a place available to wash them afterward. We can also eliminate cups and sticks from the machine so that it’ll become just a drink dispenser. This way, not only will we apply a Zero Waste solution without having to toss the machine, but we might also raise awareness among our visitors on why we’re doing it.

When it comes to water, we can give away reusable water bottles and, in case our tap water is not potable, we can install water dispensers in the building.

Let’s not be afraid of the reactions we may get from your visitors. When we explain our reasons with the right tone and information handy, people are always happy to listen to us and meet us halfway.

Where to start?
  1. Eliminate single-use plastic bottles
  2. Plan your meals and food shopping
  3. Eat local and seasonal
  4. Adopt a Zero Waste kind of diet
  5. Waste oil
  6. Moka machine and reusable pods

In the kitchen

Dishwashing soap blocks, on-tap detergents, and DIY detergents

Zero Waste solutions to substitute soaps and detergents, both for dishes and the kitchen in general, are always more within everyone’s reach thanks to on-tap products.

Another option is the dishwashing soap bar. Of course, we’re not talking about soap bars sold in plastic packaging, but about bars such as the Dish Washing Block (nope, we’re not advertising anyone. It’s just an excellent product that has already been used by many of us, and that’s why we are suggesting it), or something similar.

Last but not least, and certainly major Zero Waste champions, are the variety of options there are for homemade detergents made with natural and affordable ingredients. All we have to do is to find our favorite recipes.

Eliminate plastic and aluminum foil

To substitute plastic and aluminum foils, there’s a very easy solution. We can cover the container with a plate or a lid instead, or use a Tupperware-style solution. However, if it’s something that we must wrap in foil, then we can use bee wraps, cotton cloth dipped in beeswax, that makes them waterproof, washable, and moldable.

Bee wraps last around one year, after which you can easily “recharge” them by dipping them into edible wax again. Keeping this in mind, for all the DIYers reading, they can be easily made at home with old sheets or cotton cloths and some edible wax.

Other little tip: we can start to find cloth that dipped into vegetable wax, which can be better than beeswax – of course, always checking the way it gets produced!

Loofah and silicon sponges

To replace cleaning sponges with something that is life-lasting is, unfortunately, still impossible. However, they can be replaced with their loofah equivalents. 100% natural and as much effective, loofah sponges have a much longer life, don’t release microplastics and, ultimately, with enough time, are also compostable. Another alternative can be silicon sponges too, which can be reused forever.

Cloth napkins and reusable tableware

Turning our table Zero Waste is easy: reusable tableware (pottery dishes, glass cups, and metal cutlery) and cloth napkins.

We would like to spend a few words for those parents who usually opt for single-use tableware and napkins. We know that this solution makes our lives easier and allows us to dedicate more time to our children. However, if we try to imagine how much time this actually saves, we can realize that we’ll earn just a handful of minutes in exchange for a future full of waste – and it’s exactly their future we’re talking about. We’re aware that taking care of big families, or even simply hosting people, can be very tiring. However, after all is said and done, no gesture is more far-sighted and considerate of the people we love than setting our tables with reusable components.

Glass jars

Glass jars are the true kings of Zero Waste, especially if transparent. This is because they have such a wide variety of uses, from containers to decorations and tons of other solutions. Plus, if broken, they can be 100% recycled since they’re transparent glass.

Moreover, big and small glass jars can become elegant glasses, especially if decorated by us with colors and different designs. Bigger jars can become water glasses – as seen in many bars already. Smaller ones can become espresso cups or little glasses for brandies and digestives.

Wood and steel ladles

It’s true! Here, the focus is more than just zeroing out waste. It’s a matter of material too since Zero Waste also means choosing products with a longer life. When we have to buy a cooking ladle, it’s much more sustainable to choose a ladle of wood or steel rather than any other material.

When plastics and bioplastics come in contact with extremely hot food and pots, they release microplastics into what we’re cooking. Not only that, their lifespan is much shorter than that of a similar product made of wood or steel.

Reusable paper towels

The number of paper towels that we use every week can be drastically reduced if we replace the classic paper towel with a reusable one. Of course, we’re talking about a paper towel that, at some point, will be thrown away, but if we manage to reduce our waste production, it’s still a success.

Farewell oven paper

Other “kitchen foil” that can be substituted with a reusable version is oven paper. The solution is a simple oven mat, the kind of mat that resists high temperatures, works exactly like oven paper, and is washable and reusable.

Where to start?
  1. On-tap and DIY detergents
  2. Cloth napkins and reusable tableware
  3. Loofah sponges
  4. Eliminate plastic and aluminium foil

Bodycare and personal hygiene

Soap bars instead of liquid detergents and soaps, from body to hair

All detergents and liquid soaps that we use to wash our body, from skin to hair and face, conditioner included, can be used in their solid bar version. By now, there are many brands that sell these products for personal hygiene in their solid version. They’re just as effective and available in a wide variety of active ingredients and fragrances – just like those we’re already used to.

For those who have specific allergies and dermatological problems, not only are there pharmaceutical products (also for intimate hygiene) in solid shape, but also pharmacies that make galenic products upon request, as well as recipes that can be easily made at home – giving us back control over the type and quantity of the substances we apply on our own skin.

If we can’t get used to solid hair products, then let’s choose their on-tap alternative, so that we can still benefit from their liquid texture without continuing to use single-use bottles.

While traveling, let’s always remember to take these products with us instead of relying on the single-use bottles given to us by the hotel we’re staying at. When it comes to soap bars, we won’t have any limits on quantity like we do for liquid products — one more reason to choose them and make them our new favorite allies for a Zero Waste kind of lifestyle.

Zero Waste period

We know that, when it comes to our period, each woman has her own necessities and preferences; so here are some options for a Zero Waste period:

  • Menstrual cup – Sometimes one has to try different brands before finding the perfect match, and surely we have to do a bit of practice to learn how to properly insert it and take it out, but its comfort can be heavenly. It lasts up to 15 years, saving those who use it not only huge amounts of waste but also money. There are many types, shapes, sizes, and materials, according to one’s needs, so we suggest learning about all the various options in order to choose the one that is best for us.
    Sometimes, a small leak can happen, so we suggest to pair it up with a reusable pad or period underwear.
  • Reusable pads and panty-liners – For those who can’t or don’t want to use the menstrual cup, or want to prevent eventual leaks, washable pads are the best answer. Easy to carry around, endlessly reusable, washable in the washing machine and perfectly functioning. They are an amazing Zero Waste option for our periods. If we have a hard time fixing them to our underwear, we can choose to dedicate some of our underwear strictly for periods and sew a strip of velcro between the slips and the pad so that there won’t be any problems when moving.
  • Period underwear – The premise is the same as reusable pads, but it’s as if the pad is incorporated in our underwear. Also in this case, perfectly effective, very comfortable and amazing to help prevent leaks from the cup.

Beware of the scrub!

The microspheres that make up the majority of – if not all – scrubs that can be purchased at the supermarket and in drug stores, or that are not 100% natural, hence made of compostable products (fruit shells, salt, coffee, sugar, etc.), are made of plastic and release in the environment (and on our skin) an incredibly high quantity of microplastics – aka microwaste, highly toxic for our bodies too.

Hence, to choose natural scrubs, if not make them ourselves with exfoliating ingredients, is not only the best Zero Waste solution, but it’s also extremely convenient and healthy. Indeed, let’s remember that we should never use products on ourselves that we wouldn’t eat.

 Toothbrush and floss

Toothbrushes are a rather delicate point when talking about Zero Waste because the truth is that there’s no Zero Waste solution. In this case, single-use products, regardless of the material, hopelessly towers over all of us. That means, paying attention to the material can surely help, in addition to changing toothbrushes only when truly needed, and prolonging the life of the one we already have by washing its bristles and dipping the head in a bit of water and vinegar (or any other natural cleansing substance). Moreover, learning how to brush our teeth will be heavenly not just for our health, but it will also help make our toothbrush’s bristles longer.

Hence, first of all, let’s avoid plastic toothbrushes

Bamboo toothbrushes are a good (and very common) option, but also, in this case, the mass production of a single-use object is not healthy, even if it’s a natural material. Moreover, often wooden toothbrushes get more easily attacked by molds, making their lifespan shorter than necessary, hence requiring more frequent replacement (aka consumption). Bioplastic can be a valid alternative.

For us, nowadays, the best solution is bioplastic toothbrushes with a replaceable head. This way, the body of the toothbrush can be endlessly used, and the only piece of waste that will be produced a couple of times a year is the small head made of bioplastic.

Since we’re talking about dental care, we’d like to talk about dental floss too. There are alternatives to plastic-based floss such as silk. However, if we know how to brush our teeth properly (and here our hygienist can help us a lot!), we can apply the best of Zero Waste solution for floss: to not use it!

We’d like to use this opportunity to renew our invitation: if you have suggestions and updates on this matter, don’t hesitate to write us! We’ll be happy to update the guide accordingly.

Cotton swabs

A bit like sponges and straws, cotton swabs pose the same question: do we really need them?

Nope, actually, not at all! Cotton swabs are bad for us. Not only are they incapable of truly remove ear wax, but if used wrongly and too deeply, they can damage the ear. Moreover, their single-use nature (combined with their daily use) makes them one of the most polluting wastes there are. The same result, if not better, can be obtained by simply washing our ears with water and then drying them with a thin cloth or a piece of toilet paper.

But if we really can’t do without them, then projects like The Last Swab (we’re not advertising and we’re not sponsored by them) can be a Zero Waste solution: they are washable swabs that can be reused for years. There is also a wooden alternative, more similar to a small spatula than a swab with the same use and goal that can last for years.

Homemade deodorant and toothpaste

For now, toothpaste and deodorant are basically unavailable on tap. There are products for sale in more sustainable packaging (and exceptions can be made for some rare cases), but generally finding them on tap or in solid version is hard.

Therefore, the Zero Waste solution turns out to be self-production. In spite of many recipes that we can find on the internet, both deodorant and toothpaste can be easily homemade with ingredients that are simple both to find and to mix, and it takes just a few minutes to make them. For example, baking soda mixed with essential oils such as almond or calendula oil can make a simple, effective DIY deodorant. Also, in this case, it’s not just the best Zero Waste solution — it’s the healthiest one.

Baking soda can also be used to wash our armpits on those days when hormones are a bit stronger since it also acts to rebalances our skin’s pH.

Last but not least, rock crystal, odorless but a good deodorant, is a great Zero Waste option if bought package-free.

Toilet paper

In this case, there’s no Zero Waste solution, but we should address one thing: we use incredible amounts of this product, so choosing the kind of paper with which it’s made can make a huge difference.

Eliminating scented and colored toilet paper is the first step because it takes many more resources to produce it. Opt for a toilet paper that is made with recycled material. And last but not least, choose toilet paper rolls that, instead of a cardboard tube, have another little roll of toilet paper in the center — eliminating the tube entirely.

Metal razor blade

Another extremely common single-use product: the razor blade. Even when used for a long time, it is, in the end, a piece of waste. A metal razor blade only needs to be changed every once in a while, and it’s the best Zero Waste solution. It surely costs more in the beginning, but in the long run, it’ll turn out to be cheaper than any other option.

Washable makeup pads

The Zero Waste solution to make-up pads is to use washable ones. With a little effort, they can also be made at home with old towels and cloths.

Body sponges

Body sponges are one of those products which, first of all, we should ask ourselves: do we really need them? Aren’t we able to wash ourselves as effectively without using one? Or maybe using a towel or a gentle natural scrub (see above!) would be just as effective? Hence, the best Zero Waste solution is to not use a body sponge at all.
If we really can’t do without them, then a valid alternative to synthetic sponges (that release infinite microplastics every time we use them, let alone when we throw them away) are loofah sponges, which are biodegradable, as effective as others, and much more Zero Waste than synthetic sponges.

Oil as makeup remover

Almond or coconut oil can be used as a Zero Waste solution instead of the classic plastic-bottled makeup remover. Speaking of which, we invite you to choose local oils: and always be sure to find out how the oil was produced. Moreover, let’s ask ourselves if there’s a more local and sustainable option.

For example, the environmental impact caused by the excessive use of coconut oil in places where it doesn’t come from can turn out to be just as negative as the use of single-use products themselves.

Where to start?

P.S. For women, N.1 is Zero Waste period


Well-known tricks for reducing household consumption

Emissions are an obvious waste, so is excessive domestic energy consumption. Therefore, even if it may be obvious for the majority of us, we want to do a quick recap of well-known best practices that can help reduce consumption, waste, and, of course, bills!

  • Turn the tap off instead of having it uselessly run when we wash something (whether an object or ourselves)
  • Turn off the lights when nobody is in the room
  • Lower the light intensity where you don’t need too much light
  • Use LED bulbs
  • Choose a fan instead of an AC
  • Generally speaking, don’t use an AC
  • Turn off electronic devices and multi plugs instead of leaving them on standby 
  • Hang clothes to dry instead of using electric dryers
  • Sweep the floor with a broom instead of using the vacuum cleaner 2 out of 3 times
  • Don’t charge electronic devices more than necessary (also because you risk ruining the battery)
  • Use manual work instead of an electronic device, if possible
  • Don’t open the windows when radiators are on. Also, check the temperature of the radiators: even 1° can make a huge difference for the environment
  • Make your home and the objects in it functional, instead of just beautiful, so that their maintenance will be easier and more sustainable
  • Use purifying plants to improve the quality of the environment

Rechargeable batteries

To power electronic devices in our house (and all electronic devices in general), opt for rechargeable batteries.

Solar panels and induction plates

We chose to add this item to our guide to emphasize a concept. When we use the word waste, we’re not just talking about the material garbage we throw in the bin but also about the energetic waste we produce (aka polluting emissions). We can begin by choosing to light up or warm our homes with more sustainable resources such as solar panels.

At the same time, in the case of designing new homes, changes and/or remodeling, we can opt for induction plates instead of gas.

Where to start?

Best practices to reduce waste and rechargeable batteries

Home hygiene

On tap and homemade detergents

As we said a few suggestions ago, choosing on-tap detergents for our floors and surfaces is a great way to make the hygiene of our houses Zero Waste.

Moreover, let’s not forget that a large majority of detergents can be homemade with ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon, water, and salt. All we have to do is find the recipe we prefer and there you have it — raising even higher the Zero Waste bar. Our health will benefit from it as well, considering that the majority of the detergents used to clean our houses are highly aggressive and contain substances that don’t contribute to our wellbeing.

Old pillowcases, towels and kitchen cloths instead of sponges and cleaning cloths

The title says it all. Instead of synthetic sponges and cleaning cloths, we can use old pillowcases, towels and kitchen cloths to clean your house from floors to furniture.
When it comes to more abrasive sponges, as we mentioned before regarding kitchen sponges, loofah is a great alternative, even if not 100% Zero Waste, it is very sustainable.

Reusable and biodegradable garbage bags

Have you ever taken into consideration the fact that a garbage bag is a piece of waste itself? And, because it’s generally made with plastic, it’s one of the most lethal.

In this case we are in front of an uphill battle. Let’s start by saying that waste like glass, paper and, in some cases, plastic can be stored in reusable bins, emptying them at the moment of garbage collection.

However, we do realize that it’s almost impossible to get rid of single-use garbage bags when we have to deal with general trash. Therefore, a solution could be to use compostable garbage bags for this type of trash.

Quit latex gloves

In this case, we don’t refer so much to the gloves used to clean the bathroom or the kitchen – ones that we could do without, especially if we use natural detergents.

We’re talking about single-use latex gloves, “surgeon gloves” as many call them, that are usually used to clean the house and fulfill an extremely limited number of actions, including, paradoxically, picking up trash.

Let’s opt for washable and reusable gloves instead, perhaps waterproof ones.

Pipe filters and filter bags for clothes

The amount of microplastics (aka microwaste) that our clothes leave behind in the water every time we wash them in the washing machine is incredible. It’s enough that we soon may realize – in the majority of cases – what we wear every day is basically walking waste made of extremely low quality and highly toxic materials.

So to limit damage, especially when washing fabrics such as fleece, elastane, acrylics, and polyester, we can use a washing bag specifically made to prevent these kinds of microplastics from ending up in the pipes. These are bags that don’t limit the cleaning process but simply catch the fibers.

Alternatively, and even better, we can choose to apply a filter directly to the pipe.

And then, of course, let’s buy clothes that are made of sustainable materials, and that don’t release microplastics and toxic substances in the environment and onto our bodies – more about it in the “Clothing” section.

Where to start?
  1. On-tap and homemade detergents
  2. Old sheets, towels, and cloths to clean
  3. Reusable garbage bags


fashion revolution

Before starting with our various suggestions, we want to underline a very simple fact that explains in one sentence why we are talking about clothes in a Zero Waste guide: the textile industry is the second worldwide for environmental pollution.

Let’s also start from the premise that, especially in this case, consumerism rules as a king: we all own clothes in abundance and they are a lot more than what we really need. 

So, before displaying any other ideas on how to live a more Zero Waste kind of lifestyle in this sense, our first suggestion is: quit buying new clothes, unless they are strictly necessary because of technical or highly specific reasons.


As we’ve said often so far in this guide, the best way to eliminate waste from our lives is to not produce them! Therefore, why should we keep on buying new clothes, when we could swap what we already have, possibly with someone who has the same taste? Swap markets, our friends’ wardrobes, clothes dismissed by our relatives, and a few interesting websites (or social network groups) are the perfect answer if we want new clothes that mirror your style without having to buy new ones.

Moreover, when we find ourselves wanting or needing to wear something peculiar, or a piece of clothing that we won’t wear more than once, we can always rent, or even better, borrow from friends.

Reuse and vintage markets

If we really don’t find what we’re looking for swapping and exchanging, then choosing reused clothing – aka vintage! – is a much more sustainable kind of purchase, since we’re not buying anything new.

No fast fashion

If we really must buy something new, then let’s not buy clothes that come from fast-fashion brands.

What does that mean practically? It means buying clothes that are made with long-lasting materials; are repairable (if the brand has a policy of actual sustainability, then it will be the first to offer to repair your damaged and/or worn-out items); are clothes made legally both in terms of work policies and environmental policies; use fabrics made with sustainable materials and produced as sustainably as possible; and utilize recycled materials. The prices of these kinds of items are much higher than those made by fast-fashion brands but, of course, their durability is considerably higher, and they are created with the intent to be bought once and last forever; not to be changed the following month or even the following week.

Moreover, fast-fashion brands make products that contain an extremely high number of toxic substances such as dyes and fabrics that get absorbed by our bodies through our skin, and in some cases via the air. We’re talking about substances that, in the long run, can lead to toxicity, cancer and degenerative diseases. One more reason to quit once and for all these kinds of clothing.


Repairing is a revolutionary act because it’s the exact opposite of single-use, the concept that nowadays, rules above us all. If an item is broken, or simply worn out and only needs a bit of reinforcement, the Zero Waste approach is to repair it, either alone or by taking it to a tailor that can help us.

Online shopping

To stop shopping online, especially on big e-commerce sites like Amazon, is one of the most Zero Waste and socially useful actions that can be done. Indeed, it allows us to eliminate all at once the packaging used for shipping, the pollution involved in transportation, and helps combat mass production and workforce exploitation.

Where to start?
  1. No fast fashion
  2. Swap and borrow
  3. Repair
  4. No online shopping

Outside, traveling and outdoors

zero waste outdoor

Be mindful of how we move around

As we’ll repeat many times, emissions are waste too and, especially in the case of planes, they are among the main polluters on the planet. According to an ever-growing number of scientific studies, together with the adoption of a vegan diet, quitting air travel would be one of the best ways to cut CO2 emissions and begin to remedy the environmental disasters we’ve caused up until now.

So, whether it’s a large trip or a simple daily commute, being mindful of the means of transportation we use is crucial. Adopting the one that has the least impact on the environment is the Zero Waste solution. 

If you find yourself in the condition of flying, then you can choose to offset your carbon footprint with a non-profit dedicated exactly to this: Atmosfair

Reusable water bottle

We’ll say it out loud: single-use plastic water bottles are anachronistic and dangerous for the health of those who use them. Reusable water bottles, possibly made of stainless steel, are the perfect Zero Waste solution to drink water or any other kind of drink. If we need to purify the water we’ll use with it, we can use a dedicated filter. Some even have it incorporated. If we don’t have a water fountain handy, or a tap, we can ask bars or restaurants to fill it up for us…never doubt other people’s kindness!

Pack our own lunch

To carry our meal or our sandwich, you we use reusable containers or similar, or we can use bee wraps instead of plastic or aluminum foil.

Cutlery kit, spork, and cotton napkin

To replace once and for all single-use cutlery and napkins that we receive while eating out, the solution is to use a kit of reusable cutlery that we always carry with us such as bamboo ones, if not the ones we already have at home. However, let’s keep in mind that the latter would not be allowed on a flight, especially knives.

Another practical solution is the spork, the union between a spoon and a fork, generally made of wood (hence non-confiscatable at the airport). It is much shorter than a normal piece of cutlery making it even easier to carry around. It’s a great solution, and even cheaper than the whole kit!

When it comes to paper napkins, we can carry around a cotton napkin instead.

Glasses, cups, and thermoses

Also, in this case, a reusable glass/cup, possibly made of stainless steel, is the perfect solution to avoid single-use glasses and cups. Some cups also work as thermoses. This is a great solution not only for what concerns homemade tea or coffee but also for takeaway beverages.


Our question when dealing with straws will always be the same: do we really need them? Whatever we drink with a straw, we can drink it without one.

If we’re talking about single-serving juice cartons, we invite everyone to reconsider the actual purchase of this product, keeping in mind the giant amount of waste that is produced with just a single one of these cartons. There are glass alternatives, or we can choose to fill up a flask with package-free juice, or juice kept in much bigger, hence less polluting, packaging. However, not buying them still remains the best choice.
If we really can’t do without a straw, then surely stainless steel straws, washable and reusable, are a great solution.

Preparing our own snacks and sandwiches

Preparing one’s own snacks and sandwiches, and in general preparing our own meals while eating out is an amazing Zero Waste solution. This will help us eliminate single-use packaging thanks to containers, bee wraps, and reusable napkins, in addition to helping us save money and stay healthy. We all love eating out and tasting dishes that are different from our own cooking. It’s not a matter of renouncing eating out once and for all, but to be more active in our daily life and leave eating out for special occasions.

Vending machines

Whether it’s the espresso cup with its little stick to steer the sugar (even when we have it without sugar or milk), or the plastic bottle of our drink, or the wrap of a snack, automatic dispensers are the epitome of single-use and here the only possible Zero Waste solution is: don’t use them.

In case we are the manager of a public place, we can choose to find alternative solutions (like returnable bottles or a nearby cafe) and raise awareness among our visitors on why we chose something different.

If we really can’t do without automatic machines, we can encourage our visitors to carry their own cup and spoon and make a place available to wash them afterward. We can also eliminate cups and sticks from the machine so that it’ll become just a drink dispenser. This way, not only will we apply a Zero Waste solution without having to toss the machine, but we might also raise awareness among our visitors on why we’re doing it.

When it comes to water, we can give away reusable water bottles and, in case our tap water is not potable, we can install water dispensers in the building.

Let’s not be afraid of the reactions we may get from your visitors. When we explain our reasons with the right tone and information handy, people are always happy to listen to us and meet us halfway.

Rechargeable batteries and portable solar panels

When out, especially while traveling or during outdoor activities, there are various devices that need batteries. In this case, rechargeable batteries are the solution.

Moreover, there are small portable solar panels that use solar energy to recharge integrated power banks that you can use while traveling or during long days outside.

Earplugs and night masks

The Zero Waste solution is easy: reusable earplugs, like for example titanium ones, and reusable masks, instead of those given to us by hotels, planes or other facilities.

Let’s take it with us, even if it’s compostable

Just because something is compostable, let’s not leave it in nature. Let’s take it away with us and let’s dispose of it properly. This is for various reasons: our fruits and veggies don’t belong there, especially if we are talking about products that are not from that area. We are many people and, if each one of us left their organic waste in nature, it would become a compost bin; and that waste could become food for animals that should actually remain wild and hunt for their food, keeping balance in the ecosystem. Even worse, leftover food waste could turn out to be poisonous for them because of the substances and pesticides used to grow it. Let’s leave nature wild, and let’s leave no trace behind us.

Of course, this is even more true for paper tissues and wet wipes. It doesn’t matter if the packaging says they’re sustainable, biodegradable, or maybe even compostable: it’s not in nature where they should be thrown. After doing our business, let’s carry them away in hermetic tubes (which are made specifically for these purposes), or more simply use a bag like the ones used for pets. 

We don't need our towels changed everyday

When staying at a hotel for several days, we don’t need the towels of our room to be changed everyday. It’s a small choice that has a huge environmental impact.

Let's not use the hotel's single-use toiletries kit

Almost all hotels provide their guests with a single-use toiletries kit: soap bar, shampoo, hair cap and so on. Instead of using single-use products, let’s carry our own from home: make room for Zero Waste traveling!

Let's carry a reusable foldable bag with us

Whether we’re traveling, or just out for the day, let’s make sure to always have a reusable foldable bag with you: we won’t even realize it’s in our bag or backpack, but it’ll make a huge difference when making a purchase!

Let's do without AC or heating

When staying at a hotel, AC is basically always there, even when it’s not necessary. Of course, the most Zero Waste of choices is to switch it off and notify the staff that’s that how we want it to be for the rest of our staying, especially when we’re not in the room.

If it’s truly impossible to do without AC, then let’s remember to switch it off when we leave the room and let’s use it only when we’re in. It’ll still be better than to have it on for the whole day.

The same goes for radiators: we can ask to lower the temperature, or to turn them off completely. If we can control them ourselves, then let’s do it and notify the staff about our choices.

Where to start?
  1. Let’s be mindful of how we move around
  2. Reusable water bottle
  3. Carry your own Zero Waste meal
  4. Reusable cutlery kit, sporks and cotton napkin
  5. Straws
  6. Leave no trace


Washable diapers

A quick count of an average 5 diapers per day (estimating 8 in the first few months and decreasing thereafter), reveals that a baby uses around 4650 diapers in the first two and a half years of their lives. When washable, you buy just 24 diapers (8 diapers x 3 days). Materials? They can be 100% natural, like cotton and canvas, or microfiber. If we’re nervous about the choice we’re making, then let’s start with microfiber: it dries faster and it’s better for new parents.

If we can’t go all washable, then let’s do it bit by bit, choosing single-use diapers that are biodegradable, if not compostable.

Percarbonate and baking soda instead of detergents

Percarbonate can easily be bought in bulk, but this is also true for many other kinds of detergents.

If used above 50 degrees, it works as both a whitener and a disinfectant. A tablespoon is enough for a fully-loaded washing machine and even diapers will become new again. If any stain does remain, hang them under the sun…seeing is believing!

Baking soda has a degreasing action, which can be used in case of stubborn stains.

We suggest baking soda as well because it’s a natural product, unlike many other commercial disinfectants. Unfortunately, while it has become much easier to find shops that sell on-tap detergents, disinfectant products for children are still very hard to find this way.

(Biodegradable) wipes only when truly needed

When we change our babies, we’ll only do them a favor if, rather than using a wipe for every type of situation, we’d wash them directly with running water instead. Let’s leave single-use wipes for only those times when we truly have no other alternative. And of course, let’s choose biodegradable or, even better, compostable ones.

Avoid monodoses - especially for saline solutions and drugs

Saline solution, which is actually a mixture of purified water and salt, is very useful for disinfecting small wounds or as a nasal spray. At the pharmacy, you can find 1-liter bottles or larger with which you can pull the solution up with a syringe to maintain sterility. This is not only the best Zero Waste solution, but it also allows us to save a lot of money compared with respective monodose options.

Secondhand clothes, sheets, covers, toys, and accessories

This is one of the best Zero Waste solutions out there. Indeed, babies grow at exponential rates, and bodies, onesies and clothes in general change size in the blink of an eye. Secondhand clothes are not only a Zero Waste choice, but they also help save a lot of money.

The same goes for toys and dolls. It doesn’t make sense to buy new things when we can use an object that already exists in our lives – or use one that our friends don’t want to use anymore!

The same goes for sheets, covers, and linen in general. But also for travel (carrycot, car seat, and stroller) and similar accessories such as changing tables and cradles.

Long story short, the best solution from all points of view is to team up with fellow parents, friends, and family, and exchange all sorts of objects that one may need without having to buy anything new.

Glass feeding bottles and wooden and rubber pacifiers

The title says it all: instead of plastic, it’s better to choose natural materials and glass, both for the feeding bottle and the pacifier. To sterilize these items, it’s enough to boil them. There’s no need for extra machines or substances.

Bathing and personal hygiene products that are natural, homemade and not tested on animals

This is true for both parents and babies. Moreover, the more natural the product, the healthier. If we need ideas, we can look at the “Bathroom and personal hygiene” section of this guide.

Reusable cutlery, glasses, and dishes, made with natural materials

In this case, we suggest products that are made of natural materials such as bamboo. We suggest always avoiding plastic since it releases microplastics into the food and drinks it comes in contact with.


You’ll often find this item on this guide. Our question when dealing with straws will always be the same: do we really need them? Whatever we drink with a straw, we can drink it without one.

If we’re talking about monodose juice cartons, we invite everyone to reconsider the actual purchase of this product, keeping in mind the giant amount of waste that is produced with just a single one of these cartons. There are glass alternatives, or we can choose to fill up a flask with package-free juice, or juice kept in much bigger, hence less polluting, packaging. However, not buying them still remains the best choice.

If we really can’t do without a straw, then surely stainless steel straws, washable and reusable, are a great solution.

Toys made with natural materials

If the need arises to buy a new toy, then favor natural materials like wood and cotton instead of plastic and synthetic fibers: it’s definitely the most sustainable choice, besides being the healthiest for our kids.

What’s more, since kids learn through touch and taste, natural materials offer tactile sensations (for both their hands and mouths) that are very different from plastic, and this can help their brain development.

For mums: pasties, lactation pads, and washable panty liners

Pasties can be bought in silver and given away after the first period of breastfeeding. Lactation pads and panty liners can be replaced with their washable alternatives.

Where to start?
  1. Washable diapers
  2. Second-hand objects, clothes, and accessories
  3. No monodose
  4. Percarbonate and baking soda instead of detergents
  5. Biodegradable wipes only when necessary

Gardening and growing food

zero waste gardening

Rainwater stocking

To water your plants, you can use rainwater from past days: it will take a few barrels to stock up during rainy days, and then we can use it whenever we need. 

Grow your own food

Growing our own food is a profoundly revolutionary act as well as healthy. If we don’t have big spaces (or only a balcony), let’s consider the possibility of growing at least something such as tomatoes or a lemon tree. Any kind of food, if homegrown, will allow us to lower consumption, save on your groceries, and make us sure about the quality of the food we’re eating.

Natural and homemade pesticides and remedies

When we take care of our plants, from our veggies to our decorative ones, let’s make use of pesticides and remedies that are natural (if not homemade). Chemical pesticides are highly toxic not only for plants and for the environment (let’s always take into consideration production processes!) but also for ourselves.


If we have a big enough garden, let’s create our own composting bin. It’s an amazing Zero Waste solution! Moreover, some food waste, such as coffee or eggshells, can be used as fertilizer instead of being composted like all other organic waste.

Clay vases

Let’s choose clay vases over plastic ones. It can be a much more sustainable solution for our plants.

Sowing instead of buying the plant

When possible, instead of choosing plants that have already been grown in pots (typically made of plastic), the Zero Waste solution is definitely to grow the plant that we want by sowing it directly in the soil or in pots that we already have (possibly made of clay) without buying new ones.

Where to start?
  1. Stock rainwater
  2. Grow your own food
  3. Natural and homemade pesticides and remedies
  4. Composting

Presents, parties and festivities

Party Rental

Party rentals are a great way to reduce common types of waste generated at parties. Reusable tableware (such as dishes, glasses, and cutlery) can all be rented out so we don’t have to rely on single-use items. 

In Italy, this idea goes even further with places known as stoviglioteca, where the value of community collaboration is truly celebrated. Instead of buying individual sets of tableware for parties, people in the community contribute one or two sets to the stoviglioteca, and make them available for everybody to rent for very cheap prices, just like a library.

Party rentals companies are a very common solution, so we suggest looking for one closest to you. If you don’t find one, you can think of creating your own stoviglioteca. If you want to do it with us, write us!

Zero Waste solutions to wrap presents

The Japanese have a unique name for this Zero Waste solution to wrap presents: Furoshiki. It consists of using cloths and pieces of fabrics to wrap presents, donating them with the present itself or reusing them each time. Reusablestrings and bows instead of single-use ribbons are the best way to seal packages, tying them without the need for tape. If we want to embellish our package even more, we can use natural objects such as flowers, leaves, branches or little bouquets.

Balloons and lanterns

In this case, we find ourselves facing two types of extremely polluting waste, besides being extremely dangerous for animals that could eat them or be trapped by them. Balloons and lanterns don’t have a good Zero Waste solution: the only solution is to stop using them and use sustainable decorations instead, ones made at home with natural materials.

We’re talking about a type of waste that is not just polluting because it’s single-use but also because once released into nature, they cause pollution (and even deaths) that could have been avoided.

Cotton tablecloths and napkins

This Zero Waste solution is true every time we find ourselves setting the table, and it’s even truer when we have many guests – things that, with single-use, would result in a huge amount of garbage! Cotton tablecloths and napkins are the Zero Waste solution. If we need a very large amount of napkins, then we can ask parents or friends to borrow theirs. If we can’t, then compostable napkins are the best solution. Beware of colored or whitened napkins because they can’t be recycled in any way!


This is an item that we’ll find many times in this guide. Our question when dealing with straws will always be the same: do we really need them? Whatever we drink with a straw, we can drink it without one.

If we’re talking about monodose juice cartons, we invite everyone to reconsider the actual purchase of this product, considering the giant quantity of waste that is produced with just one of these cartons. There are glass alternatives, or we can choose to fill up a flask with package-free juice, or some contained in much bigger, hence less polluting, packaging. However, not buying it still remains the best choice.

If we really can’t do without a straw, then surely stainless steel straws, washable and reusable, are a great solution.


Confetti is a type of waste that can turn out to be highly polluting, especially if it’s made with plastic or glitter. First, we should ask ourselves: how much do we really need them? If they are tossed or thrown on beaches, parks and nature in general, they become lethal waste not only because of the pollution they cause by degrading but also because they may end up eaten by small animals mistaking them for food.

Is there a Zero Waste solution, besides not using them at all? Yes, dry leaves. Using a hole puncher to draw confetti on dry leaves is a really great solution, especially if we want to use them outside. On the other hand, if we are 100% sure that we’re going to use them inside and that we’ll throw them away into the proper bin (if not reuse them for future occasions) then we can use old pieces of paper.

Decorations and DIY garlands

In this case, the Zero Waste solution is to create decorations and garlands that can be reused over time, possibly those made with natural materials. Natural objects can turn out to be particularly useful, like sticks and leaves, but also cardboard boxes and cloths. Let’s remember that live plants can be incredibly decorative too, besides being a perfect example of sustainability.

Can’t come up with ideas for DIY decorations and garlands using reused materials? A quick sail around the internet will provide us with all the inspiration we need!

Homemade snacks

What if some of the snacks we served at our parties, like cookies, sandwiches and popcorn, could be homemade, instead of bought in their packages? If it’s too much of a time burden to prepare everything by ourselves, we can ask for help from friends and family, or choose to make only those types of food that would come with the least packaging.

DIY presents, donations, experiences and useful products

In this consumer-based society, we’ve been taught that presents not only have to be brand new, but that they also have to buy them even when we have no ideas or when we just need to give something. Even if we’re perfectly aware we’re giving something useless and not very personal!

So, what’s the Zero Waste alternative in this case? Well, the Zero Waste present par excellence is an experience. Whether it’s a dinner out, a massage, parachuting, or biking, giving someone an experience is really the most wonderful present one can make because it’ll create emotions that’ll last forever.

There’s also the gift of donation: choosing to make a donation to a charity in the name of who should receive the present. It’s a beautiful gift that it’s good for the person receiving it and others!

Then there’s the DIY present, an original and personalized idea that will take our loved one by surprise. Afterall, we say to make a present for a reason! Or, we can choose to give something useful, even openly asking what the best and most useful present would be.

Then there are plants, always a great solution, with their distinct ability to be always useful, spot-on, beautiful and 100% Zero Waste.

Sometimes, as surprising as it may be, we don’t even need to make a present: a letter, or a bottle of wine, or simply a day spent together will be enough to give something to someone.

A Do-Not about birthday candles

When we find ourselves using birthday candles, let’s choose to use simple, short and reusable ones. The amount of time that they spend lit is incredibly short compared to the waste they’d create if thrown out right away. Number-shaped candles are not the best choice because they’re hard to reuse for other birthdays. And from a Zero Waste point of view, sparkling fountains are always a poor choice (probably the worst), because they are single-use only.

Nowadays, there are birthday candles made with vegetable wax. Avoid soy, considering the extremely high use of this product in other industries already (indeed, it’s not necessarily the most sustainable alternative!) Of course, we must always take note of the country where a product is made and avoid, for example, soy coming from Brazil.

Alternative Christmas Trees and decorations

The first Zero Waste solution is to use plants that we already have instead of purchasing the usual Christmas Tree. Decorations, instead of being plastic, can be handmade with wood, using strings to tie and shape small sticks into stars and trees. We can even use slices of dried fruit.

If the idea of an alternative tree is not doable, then a true tree, possibly small so that it doesn’t suffer inside a vase, is the Zero Waste solution for a sustainable Christmas.

Halloween pumpkins

Halloween pumpkins can turn out to be a huge waste if their content, instead of being eaten, gets simply thrown away. Surely, the best Zero Waste solution is not purchasing the Halloween pumpkin at all, but if we really must, then let’s make sure to eat the inside!

Trick or treat?

Halloween “treats” are no more than small snacks wrapped in a mountain of waste. The packaging for each of those chocolates and sweets is a layer of single-use plastic that in truth, more than a sweet, is an actual trick on future generations. Zero Waste Solution? Homemade sweets! Cookies, chocolates, meringues, maybe even candies, all homemade in order to avoid single-use packaging and make healthier treats.

Where to start?

  1. Party rentals and Stoviglioteca
  2. No balloons and lanterns
  3. DIY decorations
  4. Sustainable wrappings
  5. DIY presents

At work

Do you really have to print that?

Before printing a document, let’s ask ourselves if we truly need to. When the answer is yes, let’s try to reduce the size of the pages and images in order to fit them in less sheets. Front and back printing is almost obvious, but we’ll say it anyway.

Use both sides of a paper

Using both sides of a sheet of paper is a good Zero Waste practice regardless of whether we’re printing something. If we don’t need a piece of paper anymore, we can use it instead of post-it notes or as a notepad rather than throwing it away.

Calendars, agendas and DIY notebooks

When we have many one-sided, used sheets, we can also make our own personal notebooks, agendas and calendars. Staples, or a thread and needle can help us make our DIY product, which will not only represents an amazing Zero Waste solution but turn out to be more convenient and better reflect our tastes and specific needs.

Internet and technology

Technology is a great Zero Waste ally, but it’s also a thousand-headed monster. On one side it replaces many objects and products, enclosing in one single device an entire work unit, saving us from the need to print many documents and even simplifying our day-to-day actions (from driving directions to staying in touch with friends and family). On the other hand, however, each of these advantages has an environmental cost that is still very high.

We’re not just talking about the device itself that, of course, one day will become garbage (and is hardly recyclable). We’re also referring to all the various servers and storage units that, remotely, allow us to use clouds, drives, emails, chats and all that exists both online and offline. Almost every GB is, ultimately, a piece of garbage.

The Zero Waste solution in this case doesn’t exist, but surely the answer is to reduce. Reduce the usage of devices and internet. Reduce the time we spend on the internet without any specific reason. Choose to go offline. Avoid filling up your social media accounts with photos and content that end up taking up space in some other physical place on the other side of the world, and keep in mind that, even if we don’t have real perception of it, each action we make online and each electronic device we have in our hands has a huge environmental impact.

By reducing our use of technology to the bare necessities, especially using it to avoid producing new objects or potential waste, will give us good results both in terms of Zero Waste and of time and sustainable productivity.

 Vending machines

Workplaces swarm with these single-use monsters. Whether it’s the espresso cup with its Whether it’s the espresso cup with its little stick to steer the sugar (even when you have it without sugar or milk), or the plastic bottle of your drink, or the wrap of a snack, automatic dispensers are the epitome of single-use and here the only possible Zero Waste solution is: don’t use them.

In case you are the manager of a public place, you can choose to find alternative solutions (like returnable bottles or a nearby cafe) and raise awareness among your visitors on why you chose something different.

If we really can’t do without automatic machines, we can encourage our visitors to carry their own cup and spoon and make a place available to wash them afterwards. We can also eliminate cups and sticks from the machine so that it’ll become just a drink dispenser. This way, not only will we apply a Zero Waste solution without having to toss the machine, but we might also raise awareness among our visitors on why we’re doing it.

When it comes to water, we can give away reusable water bottles and, in case our tap water is not potable, we can install water dispensers in the building.

Let’s not fear the reactions we may get from your visitors. When we explain our reasons with the right tone and information handy, people are always happy to listen to us and meet us halfway.

Zero Waste procedures and policies

If we are a manager, choose to apply Zero Waste procedures and policies in your company such as eliminating paper or the need to physically go somewhere (smart working included!). Generally speaking, eliminate everything that would represent a waste of resources, whether it’s materials, energy or time.

If you are employees, ask your managers to apply Zero Waste solutions. If we don’t want to do it alone, then let’s team up with our colleagues, and remember to point out to the managerial board that these solutions are good not just for the environment but also for the company’s money. For better or for worse, it’ll be one more reason to change!

Carry your own lunch and snacks

A great way to eliminate the waste created in the cafeteria, or that results from buying takeaway lunches or snacks from the vending machines, is to pack your own meals and snacks, perhaps even a small thermos with coffee or any other kind of beverage we like. In this guide’s section “Outside, traveling and outdoors” you can find more suggestions on this matter.

Where to start?
  1. Zero Waste procedures and policies
  2. Carry your own meal and snacks
  3. No vending machines

For our pets

Biodegradable bags for poop

To clean up our pets’ poop, biodegradable bags are not a Zero Waste solution, but they are surely better than plastic bags.

When we go for a walk in nature (woods, mountains, etc.), beware of letting your dog poop around, or to choose to not pick it up because it’s “organic.” Our furry friends can be carriers of diseases such as rabies that, because of vaccinations, doesn’t affect them. However, on the other hand, their droppings, left in nature, can transmit diseases to other animals such as wolves, foxes and stray dogs. If possible, always let’s clean up after our pet to prevent this kind of collateral damage.

Food in bulk or homemade

The Zero Waste solution to avoid packaging for our animal’s food? Buy food in bulk, especially when it comes to kibble.

Another alternative is homemade food. Using fresh ingredients or maybe even some leftovers, we can put it in the freezer and have portions ready-to-go day after day. In this case, not only will we apply an amazing Zero Waste solution, but we’ll also act in the best interest of our pet’s health.

 Treats and toys

Zero Waste solution? Natural materials for toys and bulk options for treats! And if that’s not possible, consider the option of not buying them at all. Indeed, this type of “food” is full of toxic substances, carcinogenic and addictive. More than a treat or a gift, we’re actually giving to our pet something that can be rather toxic, besides full of packaging.

Let’s discover the foods they prefer the most and turn that into a treat. If we’re talking about dogs, let’s defer to our trusted butcher to buy some scrap bone: tasty, genuine, and Zero Waste.

Ecological sand for litters

If our pet needs a litter, then let’s opt for ecological sand, preferably compostable or biodegradable.

No exotic pets

To keep exotic animals, whether they are land or water animals, it’s not waste, of course, but it contributes to a trading practice that is highly dangerous for the environment and the animals themselves. Animal trading itself threatens the health and safety of these beings, of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the delicate balances that form the basis of our care for Planet Earth.

We’re also talking about giving in on a whim that we don’t need: acquiring animals that don’t belong inside a house, a cage or a tank, nor to our geographical areas, just for the sake of owning them.

Word to the expert

Biodegradable or compostable plastics? No, thank you! - by Giulio Ferrante

Never before has it been so important to talk about a lifestyle respectful of the environment. More than ever, a growing number of people are becoming aware of their waste production and trying to adopt more mindful consumption choices. Even institutions are moving in this direction, aware of how urgent it is to address the current environmental emergency on multiple fronts. For example, the European Parliament has stated it will forbid the use of many single-use plastic products by 2021. Many are already wondering what will replace single-use plastic cutlery, straws, and cotton swabs. This is where next-generation materials such as bioplastics and compostable plastics come into the picture. There are already many types (mostly derived from vegetable materials) that are labeled either biodegradable or compostable. But are they really more ecofriendly than classic plastic?

If our goal is to tend to a more sustainable lifestyle, we must do some reflection first.

First of all, we must consider the decomposition process. From this angle, the “greenest” among the aforesaid materials are compostable ones (like Mater-Bi, P.L.A. and P.H.A.) because they degrade in less than 3 months and return to the soil in the form of fertilizer. The next best are plastics that are biodegradable (but not compostable) that can degrade to 90% within 6 months. In this sense, next-generation materials surely are more eco-friendly than traditional plastic, which can take up to 1000 years to decompose and releases many microplastics into the environment during fragmentation. Moreover, plastic coming from oil has a high carbon footprint: a parameter used to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of a material, object, or person. The carbon footprint of oil-based plastics is much greater than bioplastics due to the large amount of energy needed to produce them, significantly higher than that needed for vegetable-based ones like P.L.A. (Pathak, 2014).

Secondly, we must consider the production processes of the materials themselves. If coming from food waste or other production chains, bioplastics can turn out to be very sustainable, of course. Unfortunately, however, they often come from corn or sugarcane crops (Somleva, 2013). In this case, taking account of all the resources used (water, energy, soil) and all the damage caused to the environment by pesticides and fertilizers used to grow crops efficiently, we can conclude that, in truth, bioplastics definitely have a bad impact on our planet. For example, to produce 25 1.5-liter bottles of P.L.A., we’d need 2,250 liters of water – due to corn irrigation and production – compared to the 17.5 liters of water needed to make the same volume and number of bottles of Pet, or “fossil” plastic (Spezzacatena, 2019).

And in the case of sugarcane, the outcome would be even worse, considering that it’s typically grown in tropical areas and would require soil from precious forests already shrinking every day.

So, the prefix “bio” is not necessarily synonymous with higher sustainability, and in fact, a recent study demonstrates how some bioplastics, obviously biodegradable, in some environmental conditions (chemical, temperature, etc.) actually behave very similarly to plastics coming from oil (Harding, 2017).

For example, to degrade completely, plastic that is defined as biodegradable requires chemico-physical conditions that hardly ever happen in seawater where much of our trash ends up. Therefore, the use of biodegradable plastic (non-compostable) doesn’t reduce the problem of plastic in our oceans that is currently harming marine ecosystems. Even worse, these plastics, just like traditional ones, undergo fragmentation by UVA rays, oxidation and other external agents that generate harmful microplastics (Kershaw, 2015).

If we want to acquire a lifestyle that is more respectful towards the environment and ourselves, first of all, we must say farewell to single-use.

We shouldn’t replace single-use cutlery, plates, or straws with something more sustainable if it’s still going to be single-use and, therefore, impact our Planet. To be truly green, we must learn to say “NO to single-use,” not because of the plastic ban, but so we can say loud and clear to the system to quit using water, energy, soil and emitting greenhouse gases only to produce objects with incredibly short lives. Let’s learn to do without and find reusable alternatives instead.


• K. G. Harding, T. Gounden, S. Pretorius. “Biodegradable plastics: a myth of marketing?”. Procedia manufacturing, science direct. 2017

• Maria N. Somleva, Oliver P. Peoples and Kristi D. Snell. PHA Bioplastics, Biochemicals, and Energy from Crops (Plant Biotechnology journal 2013). Metabolix Inc., Cambridge, MA, USA. 

• Peter John Kershaw. UNEP (2015) Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter. Misconceptions, concerns and impacts on marine environments. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi. 

• Swati Pathak, CLR Sneha, Blessy Baby Mathew. Bioplastics: Its Timeline Based Scenario & Challenges. Journal of Polymer and Biopolymer Physics Chemistry, 2014, Vol. 2, No. 4, 84-90 

• Tommaso Spezzacatena (2019); Il lato oscuro delle bioplastiche. Impactschool magazine.

Anthropocene: the need to define the age of mankind - by Angela Castagna

“Man has too long forgotten that the Earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste”.

Man and Nature, G.P. Marsh, 1864

By the end of the 19th century, there was already growing awareness that mankind’s interaction with the environment was changing the substance of the planet itself. The accusations and blame cast by the American politician and ecology pioneer George Perkins Marsh in his famous 1864 book Man and Nature reveals the author’s strong preoccupation with the large-scale changes effected by mankind on the physical world. For example, he denounced the re-routing of rivers due to the consequences of erosion and sedimentation and sharply criticized deforestation of broad areas only to make room for agriculture and farming. These changes were so deep that they were even changing the local climate.

Marsh underscores just how dangerous mankind’s recklessness is, to want to manipulate and control everything around them, and highlights that any great operation aimed at changing the surrounding environment (and thereby destroying the natural equilibrium that characterizes it) should always be evaluated with extreme caution – especially if dictated by pure economic interest.

At the time, Marsh’s accusations contributed to making American citizens realize the sheer magnitude of the environmental damage that human activities were causing, and awakened the need for a more respectful and conscious behavior towards Nature. The strength of these feelings led to the creation of many protected areas and Natural Parks as well as the first political movements for the protection of environmental resources.

Not a long time has gone by since then. On a geological scale, 150 years are a blink of an eye, if not less. Nevertheless, the natural world became more and more unfamiliar to us, until it has turned, in some cases, into a complete stranger.

The unfamiliarity that nowadays we feel towards Nature, its equilibriums and its dynamics, goes hand in hand with the great, fast and uncontrolled use we make of its same resources. Mankind is no longer interconnected with the natural world, he actually takes it for granted, sees it as superfluous, as something that has always been there and always will, so there’s no need to care for it.

For 2.0 humans, Nature is “that green thing” that today we experience only in a few occasions, such as weekend excursions to Natural Parks and Reserves, or through TV documentaries. That’s because that same nature, that once used to surround us, has been transformed by humans themselves into kilometers of treeless lands devoid of animals, dedicated instead to intensive agriculture and farming, housing and factories. Unfortunately, the man of today considers the environment not so much as their home, a place to discover real experiences and where to get back in contact with their true self, but as an exploitable resource. Yet if on one side he admires Nature, seeking it, perhaps inspired by famous excursions and documentaries, on the other side he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s exactly the same Nature he destroys everyday.

In 2002, the Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen reintroduced to the world the concept of “Anthropocene,” a term first used in the 1800s to define a new age of the Earth’s history: a period of time during which the planet’s processes were being deeply modified by mankind. Indeed, now the human influence can be readily seen in the climate, on lands, oceans and the biosphere. According to Crutzen, mankind has caused changes to the Earth so deep that the Anthropocene can be identified as a new geological era.

To better understand this, according to the Geological Time Scale, Earth’s history can be divided into eons, eras, periods and ages, a bit like human time can be divided into years, centuries and millenniums. Each of these terrestrial phases is characterized by clear events, such as extinctions visible in layers of rock that geologists can read like a book. This is called the geological record.

Fortunately, the Anthropocene era is not yet clearly visible in the layers of rock that we just mentioned. For the time being, the effects can be perceived especially on the political, economic and social spheres. However, given the deep changes that mankind is causing to the biosphere, they will surely be seen on a geological level too in the near future.

Should mankind stop building and altering the environment, Nature would take back ownership in a few decades. However, even if traces of human mega-constructions (such as a metropolis) wouldn’t be preserved in the geological record, geologist J. Zalasiewicz states that our chemical traces would surely remain: the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere started a chain of events that has modified the very substance of some environments themselves. For example, oceans have become more acidic and face an increase in temperature, which is the reason why some organisms that inhabit them, like corals and plankton, are decreasing if not dying, further impoverishing the base of the food chain. This phenomenon of acidification, already by itself, may be causing such devastating changes in the marine ecosystem (with such a remarkable decline of its biodiversity), that it may be evident in the geological record in the future.

It’s a complex topic, difficult to understand, starting from the concept of the Anthropocene itself. Indeed, when we talk about the Anthropocene, we don’t refer to the environment, landscapes, ecosystems, pollution, or waste only. Rather, we refer to human activity as a whole, which has consequences on the Earth System that are tangible and distinguishable from its natural cycles. The key to understanding this concept is that human activity doesn’t limit itself to have an impact on the environment or the landscape, but it makes mankind a “force of Nature” capable of altering natural cycles themselves, meaning the basic functioning of the Planet.

This is where Earth System Science comes into action. This field aims at tracing and defining these changes that involve all of the Planet’s components (C. Hamilton, 2015). In this case, the Planet is finally seen as a system whose parts are deeply interconnected, and not just as a combination of many separate independent elements. Because of this complexity and this deep interconnection, but also, at times, because of the slowness of these changes, or of the manifestation of their consequences, often the topic of the Anthropocene seems distant, unclear and complicated. It’s hard but necessary to accept this new reality: that the world is literally changing before our eyes.

To put it simply, leaving the scientific aspect aside and considering our daily lives, it would be enough to think that everything that surrounds us is part of a great circle, in which each alteration manifests changes in the short and long term and where each action has a consequence, however slowly it may show.

In this case, as geology and the Anthropocene theory demonstrate, the lifestyle that we acquire with this completely unsustainable economic system is already having extremely negative and alarming repercussions on the Planet and, consequently, on us: repercussions that were hypothesized at the beginning of the twentieth century but that are now tangible. So it becomes clear that the velocity and scale of our exploitation of Earth’s (finite) resources is having such a huge and negative impact that the time has come to stop and ask what life, health and perspective we have, or better, we want, for our incredibly near future.


• G.P. Marsh, 1864. Man and Nature

• J. Zalasiewicz, 2011. The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?

• C. Hamilton, 2015. Getting the Anthropocene so wrong

The State of 'Food Waste' - by Elia Guida

Today we often hear about “food waste,” in newspapers and on TV, as a world phenomenon characterized by incredibly impressive numbers. Food waste is defined as the loss of still edible food along the agri-food supply chain. We’re talking about tremendous amounts of waste that, even if initially might surprise us, can’t be truly grasped by our real perception because of their magnitude. Despite the fact that hunger is still the first global harm to health and among the primary causes of child mortality – the so-called “paradox of scarcity in abundance” (Bonardo D., 2012) – we don’t seem to understand the fact that Food Waste isn’t just a moral problem. Indeed, it’s also an environmental emergency that has a great impact on our Planet. It’s one of the primary causes of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water, land and electricity consumption.

Let’s talk numbers: “Each year ⅓ of still edible products gets wasted, that is 1.3 billion tons of still consumable food” (FAO, 2013).

This is one of the most recurring statements we hear around the news. An enormous number. But can we truly imagine it? Do we truly understand how big the problem is?

Let’s try to get these numbers closer to our perception. Each year, from the fields to the table, 50% of food products are wasted (Siwi, 2008). Let’s consider that solely in Italy, which is also a virtuous country from this point of view, where each person wastes 149 kg of food per year (Bcfn, 2012). Imagine throwing away 149 kg of good food all at once…impressive, isn’t it?

But even if food waste is highly relevant from an ethical and moral point of view, environmentally it has a devastating and real impact. When speaking of “waste environmental impacts,” we normally think of just the resulting waste and its disposal. But if we look at the problem from the point of view of the entire life cycle of products, the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment, the reality changes: besides the emissions associated with waste disposal, we also have to keep in mind what’s created during the production of that wasted food. 

In this case, we could, of course, mention an endless list of numbers, but it would do little to impact how we perceive the problem. In the past few years many methods have been developed that can help us study and grasp the environmental impact of Food Waste: among the many, one is to imagine Food Waste as a State, which is a method that, in my opinion, helps us understand the size and the vastness of the problem in a very clear way.

Among the indicators used, we often find Carbon Footprint, which measures the greenhouse gas emissions generated by production processes. Now, if I tell you that food waste emits 3.3 Gt (gigatons) of emissions per year (FAO, 2003), you might think that’s a very big number, but your perception is still relative. However, if we consider Food Waste as a Nation, we find that it’s the third most polluting country in the World after China and the US (FAO, 2011).

Fig. 1.1. Top 20 countries for GHGs emissions vs Food Waste. (FAO, 2013, p.17)

The Blue Water Footprint, another indicator used to rank States, measures the consumption of water resources associated with agri-food productions – so it’s already related to Food Waste by itself. If we speak in numbers, the water footprint of Food Waste equals 250 km³ of water: three times Lake Geneva! (Hoekstra A., Mekonnen M., 2012). Same game as before: if it was a State, among the countries that use more water resources, how would it rank? Simply, first.

Fig. 1.2. Top 10 countries for water consumption vs Food Waste (FAO, 2013, p.28)

Last but not least, we find the indicator of Land Use, which measures the surface necessary to produce a particular product that has not been consumed. In 2007, Food Waste occupied 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is 28% of the world’s surface allocated to agriculture (FAO, 2013). If it were a State, how big would it be? It would be the biggest country in the World after the Russian Federation. 

Fig. 1.3. Top 20 countries for Land Use vs Food Waste (FAO, 2013, p.37)

As you may have understood thanks to these examples, food waste is a huge and far-reaching problem, that involves the ethical sphere, as well as the moral, environmental and social one. We urge Zero Waste solutions that enforce the concept of a Circular Economy, so that our production chains don’t produce waste and instead avoid it or, if present, value and use it as a secondary product. The road has been taken, but time is running out, and the State of Food Waste is getting bigger and stronger every day. 


  • Barilla Center for  Food & Nutrition (2012), “Lo spreco alimentare- Cause, impatti e proposte”, BCFN, Parma.
  • Bonardo D. (2012), “Wit Out- Fame e sprechi: il paradosso della scarsità nell’abbondanza”, Save the Children Italia Onlus, Roma.
  • FAO (2011), “Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention”, Rome.
  • FAO (2013), “Food wastage footprint- Impacts on natural resources”,  progetto del Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, BIO-intelligence agency, France.
  • Hoekstra A. Y.,  M. Mekonnen M. M. (2012), “The footprint of humanity”, PNAS- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol.109, Febbraio,  University of Twente, Olanda.
  • Lundqvist  J., C. de Fraiture,  D. Molden (2008), “Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain”, SIWI Policy Brief, SIWI, Stoccolma

Meditation and contemplative practices

Why meditation and mindfulness can help us be Zero Waste - by Alice Bellini

[Short premise: for convenience, I’ll use the term contemplative practices to refer to activities such as mindfulness or meditation, that however, in turn, refer to a wide variety of practices. Each of them develops different mental abilities that can affect our thinking and actions in different ways. However, all work in the same way because they pursue the same goal: bringing back the attention to something specific, whether it’s our breathing, observing the thoughts flowing in our minds, a mantra, compassion, a god, and so on].

It might seem odd that, in a guide on how to adopt a Zero Waste kind of lifestyle, meditating not only appears among all the other practical solutions, but it has an entire section of its own.

You might ask what do contemplative practices have to do with a Zero Waste philosophy – and the answer is much more scientific than you would think.

Of course, to practice a contemplative activity is not a Zero Waste solution on its own, as a reusable water bottle or a DIY deodorant can be. However, as we’ve said since the very beginning of this guide, adopting a Zero Waste kind of lifestyle doesn’t mean simply erasing a single-use product from our lives, but to enact a deep change at the core of the way we lead our lives.

Basically, this change requires quitting the consumer lifestyle we have now and acquire more awareness of the choices we make day to day. That means reducing our tendency to greed and curbing our thirst for success and power at any cost that characterizes our lifestyle and, to some extent, our nature. Instead, we can grow our inner capacity to slow down, cultivate a sense of calm, learn to take care of ourselves, be equanimous, grateful, and detached – ultimately, strengthening our perception of what truly matters and makes us feel good and what doesn’t.

Contemplative practices help enable this change. It’s not just a romantic conviction, either. Over forty years of scientific studies prove it, and neuroscientists Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson have finally summarized these findings in their book Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. It’s precisely from this book that I started to understand why contemplative practices can help us all adopt a Zero Waste lifestyle.

Mental training that favors our wellbeing

I’ll start by presenting one of Inspire’s basic convictions: mental training gives us power, choice, and wisdom, and through it, “we can cultivate qualities of mind that foster well-being” (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 55).

This wellbeing doesn’t consist of money, influence, or the growth of material goods, but rather in the nourishment within ourselves of positive emotions and capacities for things like benevolence, altruism, compassion, gratitude, equanimity, composure, ongoing mindfulness, and realistic confidence – all healthy traits that, according to Goleman and Davidson, when trained through meditation can inhibit unhealthy ones: “The goal is to establish the healthy states as predominant, lasting traits” (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 42).

A lasting trait is one that characterizes our brain and our behavior not only during meditation but all the time.

Through mental training, a healthy and balanced life with ourselves and others can become a permanent trait. Let me be clear: when talking about mental training I do not mean something abstract, but something very scientifically concrete. Indeed, the significant discovery of neuroplasticity helped Goleman and Davidson develop their theory. By meditating, in other words, training the neuronal circuitry of our brain to communicate in a new way, the brain changes, exactly like every other muscle in our body!

Therefore, through this training, we can learn to look at our daily actions in a different light, choosing to do those things that help us maintain our wellbeing and detach ourselves from those that lead us to unhealthy behaviors — until we are free from them once and for all. To put it simply, it would be like quitting smoking by nourishing the pleasure of breathing fresh air so much you wouldn’t struggle to avoid another cigarette. 

So, concretely speaking, what does meditation do? How does it act on our brain?

How does the amygdala work?

The main function of meditation is calming the amygdala’s response to signals of stress or danger that it receives with incredible frequency every day.

Indeed, as Goleman and Davidson explain to us, the amygdala is the brain’s radar for potential threats. It receives immediate input from our sensory nervous system, scanning continuously for signs of safety or danger. When the amygdala perceives a threat, its circuitry triggers the brain’s fight-or-flight response, which then dictates our actions and can unleash intense emotional responses.

Moreover, the amygdala responds to anything that’s crucial to pay attention to, whether we like it or not. For example, this dual role explains why, when we are in the grip of anxiety, we don’t seem to be able to focus on anything else and we wonder over and over about the cause. And the same goes for all negative emotions: fear, grief, frustration, rage, and discontent (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 87).

In a world where relentless stimuli and concerns are everywhere – risk of losing one’s job, performance anxiety, fear of not being accepted by others, feelings of inadequacy, worrying over the next bills to pay, the terror of what we don’t know, you name it. However, because of the aforementioned neuroplasticity, meditation helps us by, to put it simply, making the amygdala work better, and allowing us to respond in more rational ways to the “threats” we identify constantly.

Thanks to a more weighed response, we find that we don’t have to batten down the hatches anymore, nor give in to the emotional vortex that leads us to buy what we don’t need, do things that leave us unhappy with ourselves, behave in ways that don’t reflect who we are out of fear of being rejected, or freeze in fear of change or failure.

Weighting Zero Waste

It’s thanks to this mental rebalancing that we manage to make more careful choices and find time for ourselves and the lifestyle we truly wish for. We find the calm of evaluating what we truly want, learn to listen to ourselves and understand what makes us feel good. We also learn what, on the contrary, is just a sedative to not feel the frustration, sadness, and emptiness of a life that doesn’t belong to us or makes us feel perpetually inadequate.

Meditation, in all forms, allows us to stay tuned in to the thoughts and behaviors that make us feel healthy and balanced, and keep us that way. And it’s precisely because we want this wellbeing and balance that contemplative practices are fundamental to Zero Waste. And vice versa: Zero Waste is a practical translation of values that we nurture within ourselves everyday through contemplative practice.

By meditating, we find the pleasure of getting rid of what we don’t need and that weighs us down. And we soon see the pleasure of living a simpler life based on being rather than having.

As Goleman and Davidson state, “when nurtured on a grand scale, these qualities – particularly kindness and compassion – would inevitably lead to changes for the better in our communities, our nations, and our societies. These positive altered traits have the potential for transforming our world in ways that will enhance not only our individual thriving but also the odds for our species’ survival […] we view this ‘curriculum’ as one solution to an urgent public health need: reducing greed, selfishness, us/them thinking and impending eco-calamities” (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 291).

As always, small steps

As in every other situation, no one expects you to become meditation champions overnight: the important thing is to be aware that this practice can help you on your journey towards a healthier and more Zero Waste lifestyle.

So, where to start? “For those about to start a meditation practice, or who have been grazing among several, keep in mind that as with gaining skill in a given sport, finding a meditation practice that appeals to you and sticking with it will have the greatest benefits. Just find one to try, decide on the amount of time each day you can realistically practice daily—even as short as a few minutes—try it for a month, and see how you feel after those thirty days. Just as regular workouts give you better physical fitness, most any type of meditation will enhance mental fitness to some degree” (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 9-10).

I’ll leave you with the invitation to read this wonderful book, one that can truly help us better understand what contemplative practices are, how they work and especially what great potential they represent for all of us – no exceptions.

To conclude, a final quote: “We envision a world where widespread mental fitness deeply alters society for the better. We hope the scientific case we make here shows the enormous potential for enduring well-being from caring for our minds and brains, and convinces you that a little daily mental exercise can go a long way toward the cultivation of that well-being. […] Targeting and upgrading these human capacities directly could help break the cycle of some otherwise intractable social maladies, like ongoing poverty, intergroup hatreds, and mindlessness about our planet’s well-being. […] We have shown the evidence that it is possible to cultivate these positive qualities in the depths of our being, and that any of us can begin this inner journey” (Goleman & Davidson, 2017, p. 290-2).

Goleman, D., Davidson, R.J. (2017). Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. New York: Avery.

To live Zero Waste practicing awareness - by Claudia Esposito

To live Zero Waste, which means to adopt behaviours that would lead us to not produce waste, means to live consciously. For instance, when we’re purchasing something, it means to evaluate if and how the product we’re buying can be reused, or at least recycled and, generally speaking, if we truly need it; and to determine what impact it had on the environment during its production and the impact it will have during its disposal. It means to ask ourselves if there are more sustainable alternatives, or if we can do without it; to ask ourselves whether we’re buying something out of boredom or laziness. Long story short, it means understanding if we are actively polluting the Planet or not.

So, how can we bring awareness to our lives and get closer to a Zero Waste kind of lifestyle?

One of the most common ways, and also one of the easiest in my opinion, is to start meditating. Indeed, to meditate means to practice awareness. It may seem like a difficult thing that takes away time, something that we have to learn how to do: but it’s actually not like that.

It’s incredibly easy to start. A few minutes per day will be enough. And, most importantly, we all already know how to do it.

For instance, we do it every time we do manual activities, when we pay attention to the sound of the sea or the wind, and all those times when we are present, with our mind and our body, in any given situation. We don’t have to meditate sitting in silence. We can do it in any moment: because in any moment we can practice our presence.

So let’s see how to let bad habits go to embrace new ways of living, healthier for both ourselves and others, counteracting with conscious actions the usual and daily re-actions we normally have.

The practice I’m suggesting is one of the most common, used in different disciplines, methods and forms, and that belongs also to the Sutra, which are Buddha’s teachings: Anapanasati, the mental presence of breathing. In Anapanasati, we dedicate ourselves to paying attention to the air that enters and exits the body. We can do it sitting on a cushion, on a chair, but also standing at the bus stop, while brushing our teeth or when we make our bed. Simply, we pay attention to what is.

And when a thought, a sound or a physical feeling distracts us, and it’s normal that it happens, we remember to go back to our breath, and we remind ourselves to be present. We can think: “Inhaling, I know I’m inhaling. Exhaling, I know I’m exhaling.” To focus our attention on our breath means to celebrate our being in the moment we’re living, here and now. And when we do it, we start to live consciously.

Only by practicing our awareness can we truly be free to choose how to live. And, since we can choose, let’s choose to live paying respect to the ecosystem: let’s choose to live Zero Waste.

Pollution: what if it wasn't only environmental? - by Jasmine Di Benedetto

Nowadays, neuroscience states that thoughts and emotions are products of the mind, and that the mind is a function of the brain. What’s produced and created in the brain is actually recreated and made manifest directly on the body1 as a physical sensation or a symptom.

More specifically, anthropologically speaking, any particular symptom is a micro-narration of our internal disequilibrium. Hence, by listening to and learning our body language, we can understand what it has to tell us and bring to light the discomfort we have inside.

However, nowadays there’s little awareness (or none at all) of this language, and very often we don’t know how to “hear” or to understand it for that matter. The result is a deep sense of discomfort which we don’t seem to have the right tools to fix. Yet, spending our whole life inside our body, and being gifted with natural instincts as much as every other living being, we should be able to not only perceive the signals our body sends us but also understand what they mean and consequently how to act. Despite this, we seem to have completely forgotten how to “speak” this language at all.

But when did it happen? When did we lose this important ability that was so natural until only some time ago? Is there a way to recover it, or is it too late now?

Well, to understand what happened but, more importantly, to understand how to learn this language once again, we have to look to the past and let history teach us.

Everything started with Descartes.

Identifying ourselves with separations

Descartes, in his famous and paradigmatic phrase cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am), declared that our minds have power and sovereignty over all other parts of our existence (body, emotions, sensations, etc.). Over time, his theory gained great success, and it was embraced by society with the same level of conviction as that of the Earth being round or the existence of gravity. There was no doubt about it being true.
This new way of looking at the human being and the human mind, however, made it possible for us to forget that, in truth, we are a holistic and integrated ensemble of mind, body and conscience. This is because Descartes, by separating the material world (res extensa) and the world of thoughts (res cogitans), led human beings to identify themselves with separations.

Indeed, his vision was founded on the idea that life on Earth was based on opposing dichotomous pairs (e.g., black and white, right and wrong, rich and poor, inside and outside) and that these pairs were absolute and vital. However, in truth, when we take these pairs for absolute truths and positions, without embracing the relativity of things and situations, we encounter great suffering. That’s because, as philosophies and disciplines that are much older than Descartes’ prove, virtue is in the middle.

The past that teaches us how to live in the present

Despite Descartes managing to persuade mankind of this unequivocal dualism, thanks to which we should be able to contain existence as a whole into given and ready categories and dismissing the uniqueness of life, there are techniques that are more than two-thousand years old that still provide physical proof that this way of seeing the world is highly negative and dangerous for our existence.

Legend says that the Buddha was the first to teach these techniques to monks. Today, it is known as Vipassana meditation, and it is a technique with which we can reach a focused, calm and open presence. Starting in India, this technique spread across the rest of the East, acquiring new names and characteristics, until finally becoming known as the vast range of practices, philosophies and disciplines that nowadays we call meditation and consciousness practices.

Through these practices, we learn to observe our mind’s processes with the intention of training our focus to come back to the present moment. This way, we manage to cease to identify ourselves with the processes and habitual thinking that our brain constantly suggests to us. This mental exercise is called disidentification

Indeed, during our daily lives, we’re often stuck in the idle wanderings of our minds, and we believe ourselves to be the “movie” that our mind plays. So it’s said that we identify with our thoughts and our emotions, believing them to be the absolute truth of all things.
Let’s make an example: if my mind tells me that “I’m a good for nothing” and I identify with this particular movie’s narrative, I’ll end up believing that it’s the truth, that I’m actually a good for nothing person. Hence, I’ll behave consequently with this conviction, for example, by not going to a job interview, not undertaking a certain type of career that would excite me so much, or not playing that sport that I love playing. In other words, letting this “story” determine my actions and my life.

In reality, that “movie” doesn’t exist here and now, but is instead the imaginary product of my mind that, because of a characteristic function, switches back and forth between the past and the future, generating a myriad of movies of all kinds.

Let’s be clear: this wandering of the mind, this going back and forth in the past and the future generating this myriad of movies (often incredibly sad and incredibly scary), is a very normal thing. It’s not a sign of a malfunctioning mind, nor of stupidity, all the contrary! It’s a characteristic function of the mind, which means it’s a mechanism that’s normal to be there, the same way that pumping is a characteristic function of your heart. Indeed, exactly like the heart beating, these movies often play without us even realising it.

But why does our brain act this way? Why does it play these movies?

When it developed, at the time of our cave ancestors, these “movies” helped us to stay alive. A potential bear at the bottom of the cave, or fear of being excluded from the tribe and being alone and starving, were all stories that the brain would constantly tell to Homo Sapiens to help him survive. Of course, nowadays these dangers don’t exist anymore, or at least not in the same form, but even in the most wealthy and least harmful societies, our brain keeps working as it has alway done because this is its way of functioning.

The difference is whether we believe these movies or not. Indeed, when we choose to pay attention to them, our mind’s thoughts become intrusive and generate a condition of suffering that, if pathological, leads to conditions such as depression or anxiety, and an ego that is not capable of carrying out its coordinating function.

Training the attention

When our minds wander constantly, we are living unconsciously, and therefore outside the present moment, and this leads us to carry out oscillating existences, living at the mercy of our moods, which really are “an ensemble of thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and impulses” linked tightly together and at times hard to distinguish.

And here meditative practices can help. Thanks to them we can train our conscious attention (which develops precisely during the meditative state), learning day after day how to “tame” the mind, and calm it.

This is because we learn to observe its processes and products, separate the complexity of thoughts, and identify the parts that compose them, hence reducing their strong emotional grip2.

But how can a practice like meditation have this kind of effect on the mind? The answer is to be sought, once again, in the way our brain functions.

How does the brain function and what are the effects of meditation on it?

The brain is the most important part of the nervous system: it constitutes just 2% of our body mass and consumes 25% of all the oxygen we breathe. It receives information from the external world, elaborates on it, stores it (if necessary), and fires off an answer3. This response is sent rapidly through the amygdala thanks to neurons, neurotransmitters and synapses.

The neuron is a functional unit of the nervous system: it is a “cell that is highly specialized to receive, elaborate and transmit information” to other neurons or muscular and glandular cells through chemical and electrical signals4.

To send information from one cell to the other, there are tiny chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. The points of contact between each neuron occur at the synapses, where we store content that, in the long run, becomes our habits.

Within the range of the many habits we can develop during our lives, we identify as “unhealthy” those that are put into action as an automatic response to a situation that we recognize as a stressor, or a stressing agent, which is any situation that stimulates the organism to activate and enter into a state of stress.

The fundamental role is played by the amygdala, which is a bit like the inspector of the brain when it comes to threats. Putting it in very simple terms, this gland decides if something is a danger or not and, consequently, it sparks a series of neuronal  “communications” that we just described, inviting the body to fight, fly or freeze, all in an effort to survive. In a nutshell, it’s the amygdala that decides whether to sound the red alarm.

Practically speaking, meditation teaches us to become aware of these reactions of the amygdala, allowing us to train our minds to not sound the alarm when there’s no need to, or to learn to recognize when an alarm has been given but without a good reason so that we can act differently from the way our body is inclined.

Indeed, as we said, thanks to contemplative practices, we learn to observe with ever-growing awareness the thoughts and emotions that determine our behaviours, thereby regaining our ability to choose whether to turn them into action or not.

But there’s more. If we stand as observers, we can also notice that when we live a situation mentally, we automatically evaluate it, often as right or wrong, precisely in relation to that survival instinct still so alive in our brains.

Let’s make a more concrete example: if the mind recalls an old, bad experience, we automatically worry that it will happen again in the future (stressor). So, the brain activates a response through the amygdala to either attack, freeze or flee, and then it produces an emotion (fear, rage, sadness) that manifests through a physical sensation (increased heart rate, shortness of breath, flushing of the skin, screaming and yelling). At this point, not distinguishing between an imaginary situation and a real one, we react.

Of course, as we’ve said, the brain imagines threats that, one might say, don’t exist anymore. Hence, what we perceive is not only an incredibly strong emotion and an often unbearable physical sensation, but also the need to calm this emotion and sensation. So, to switch off the physiologic activation of stress, what happens is an automatic reaction in the form of a maladaptive habit. This is a behavior such as biting our nails, compulsive eating, lighting up a cigarette, watching hours and hours of TV, or any similar action that goes to calm the stress activation and give us relief. However, in the long run, this unconscious process becomes chronic and takes the form of illnesses that emerge in places where the emotion had initially manifested, first as a sensation (i.e. the sensation that we must do something to calm the stress) and then as a symptom (biting our nails, smoking, and so on). What’s another example of a maladaptive habit that helps us to calm the stress caused by an absent mind, one that constantly tells us terrible stories about how everything is a threat, and to which, most importantly, we choose to believe?
Buying things, especially if we don’t need them.

Indeed, our contemporary consumerist and capitalistic society has pushed mankind to cure the internal discomfort not through self-observation and self-awareness but through the consumption of goods, generating a massive increase in the production and consumption of products. As soon as the instant, though fleeting, sense of peace from our latest purchase has passed, it becomes lost in an exponential accumulation of ultimately wasted goods, all of which, in the end, do nothing to satisfy the inner void that led us to buy those things in the first place.

This is why purchasing items that we don’t need (sometimes even compulsively) is one of those unhealthy habits we develop to relieve stress. It’s not the object that we’re buying that gives us relief but rather the act of buying itself, one which follows a similar pathway of addiction, gratification and habituation to that of taking drugs. And we are truly not exaggerating!

Indeed, everything done with the intention of relieving the trio thought-emotion-sensation is a drug, because it’s the result of a coercive action that is done by our mind’s habit, a default behaviour in which the subject reacts by always repeating the same scheme instead of responding with a new action that could open other possibilities.

The inner pollution…and the aggravating circumstance 

We often hear that “inside and outside are the same,” but what does that mean?

I’m going to ask you a question then: at this point, don’t you think that all this mental, emotional and physical pollution is the mirror of the pollution that we humans dump onto our society, our relations with others, our relationship with the Earth, or with material goods?

There’s no doubt really that a mental chaos and clutter (so an internal one) corresponds to material chaos and pollution (so an external one).

What’s more, all of this presents aggravating circumstances. This capitalistic drug relies on burdening the Planet’s ecosystem, especially the increased number of products that come from oil manufacturing. The single-use product paradigm, often made of plastic, gets imposed and reinforced, a paradigm which is linked to (and nourishes) a strongly individualistic social vision based on competitiveness, capitalization, and emotional disconnection from one another and the world.

By destroying the Planet, we’re destroying ourselves, for a reason that’s also very evident: we are a microcosmos connected to the Earth, which is itself the macrocosmos, and we depend on it.

At this moment, most of us are internally polluted due to paying attention to thoughts and emotions that lead to the creation of unhealthy habits, and instead of training new and healthy ones, we keep externally manifesting our old ones with strength. If, instead of practicing kindness, we practice its exact opposite, in the long run we’ll end up igniting a surge of negative emotions in those around us as well.

To manage these unhealthy habits, we put into action maladaptive behaviours and we consume ephemeral goods that we then unload onto the Earth reflecting our internal pollution outside.

Both our unhealthy habits and the many ephemeral goods that we continually purchase and immediately throw away are wasteful, highly polluting trash, especially if we leave them in a corner in the darkness of our minds and the world.

So how to invert the route? 

With meditation.

By meditating we can bring to light our unconscious parts, which cause behaviours of which we are unaware because they’re directed by the autopilot of the mind.

Bringing to light means to gain awareness and perception of our internal disequilibrium, and choosing to lead a healthy and harmonious life between the parts that compose mankind and humanity. But not only that.

Widening the concept of equilibrium, bringing to light also means to recognise again how the existence of we human beings alone doesn’t guarantee life for the future: indeed, our existence is strongly tied to that of the Earth and of all the living beings on it. We’re all related by an extremely tight bond of interdependence.
A harmonious existence is the result of a balanced relationship between parts and it is the only way to succeed in living a healthy life.

If we think of our brain like a garden, what we do when we meditate is it to realize the presence of many plants – as well as the impossibility of eliminating them – and to constantly trim them so that they do not end up covering the whole space of our thoughts. At the same time, we nourish the more healthy seeds, like compassion, loving-kindness, gratitude, brotherhood, solidarity, allowing these qualities to blossom, becoming so pervasive that they also will begin to involve those around us.


  2. Zindel V., Segal J., Mark G., Williams John D. Teasdale, MINDFULNESS AL DI LÀ DEL PENSIERO, ATTRAVERSO IL PENSIERO, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2014, Pg.291

Zero Waste map