This article will comprise of two sections. Section A will have a list of 10 easy steps to help you getting started Living Zero Waste. Yup, just a list of 10 easy changes to make. Easy things like using alternatives products or methods.
Once you’ve read the list, and seen how simple the 10 steps are, you can proceed to Section B for more information on the 10 steps. The juicier bit.
Ready? Let’s go!
Section A: 10 Easy Steps
- Switch to reusable bags and jars for shopping, and invest in a refillable water bottle
- Get rid of disposables – Bags, Straws, Containers, etc.
- Use your own containers / Travel Kit and pack your own lunch
- Recycle – Light Bulbs, Printer Cartridges, etc.
- Compost – Food scraps, paper, etc. Switch to compostable items
- Clever shopping and planning to reduce food waste
- Buy in bulk – preferably organic and especially local
- Replace with waste free products or make your own
- Go digital and get rid of junk mail
- Minimize, downsize and say No to unwanted stuff.
Section B: But, How?
1. Reusable Bags, Jars & A Refillable Water Bottle
Plastic bags and plastic bottles cause the biggest strain on our environment, yet replacing them in our day to day lives are the quickest and easiest change to make.
Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide (that’s over one million plastic bags used per minute) and the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. The quantity of crude oil used to manufacture the 29 billion water bottles a year is enough to keep a million cars going for 12 months.
So, instead of saying YES to that plastic bag at check out simply because it is convenient, rather invest in a few reusable bags, or make your own. They came in all shapes & sizes.
Glass jars are also very useful to buy spices, grains, oil, etc. Also invest in a refillable water bottle instead of buying a plastic bottle each time.
2. Get Rid Of Disposables
Be it bags, straws, paper towels, napkins, plastic spay bottles, and what not. The kitchen especially is filled with disposable items that are responsible for a whole lot of waste. Living Zero waste you can instead use alternatives where possible:
- Replace paper towels with reusable rags.
- Pack meals in a container or a reusable bag instead of the single serving sandwich bag.
- Invest in bamboo or stainless steel straws.
- Use cloth napkins instead
3. Travel Kit & Pack Your Own Lunch
A cup of coffee and a take away meal is the norm, yet contributes to so much waste. Rather collect a set of dishes and utensils to keep in your car or bag. This can be as simple as a lunch container with a fork, knife, spoon, cloth napkin and cup. It will always be there when you need it for to-go food, potlucks, picnics or even for take out food or a doggy bag.
Further to that, pack your own lunch for work. Not only is it waste free, you’ll save money too. I have a nifty little mug with a lid suitable for a coffee on the go, a glass water bottle and a utensil set.
No, don’t buy that plastic bottle just to recycle it. That wont really help. Don’t buy the plastic bottle in the first place. In this context, we mean recycle light bulbs, cartridges, electronic parts, etc.
Hang a bag somewhere, behind the door perhaps, or use the dustbin that used to collect ALL the waste, for the the stuff that needs to be taken to place for safe disposal. Clean the bag out once every 6 months and take everything where it needs to go.
Compost what you can, like food scraps and paper and try to switch non compostable items to stuff that can be composted. When in the mood for a take out food, I now buy at Nando’s (a South African Franchise) because all their packaging materials can be composted. Fun fact, the plastic wrappers in Fry’s Family boxes can also be composted!
There are many indoor composting system available (I made my own…) and if you have a garden, so much better.
6. Reduce Food Waste
Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day — from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce. I was shocked when I realized how much food I wasted. My biggest problem was always buying too much fresh produce and then throwing most of it away, or leaving left overs in the fridge for too long.
- Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
- Making (and sticking) to a shopping list helped combat my “shopping on a whim” habit.
- Also keep “use by” dates in mind when preparing food, and use the previous night’s left overs for new meals.
- Prepare & store perishable foods soon after shopping (freezing, preserving, canning, etc)
- Freeze off cuts and bits for broth. I freeze the ends of green beans, carrots, the tops of tomatoes, spinach stems. Either for broth or soup, depending on the quality.
A ton of cool tips can be found at Zero Waste Chef.
7. Buy in Bulk; Organic & Local
There’s a lot of hype about buying organic these days. It’s mostly seen as being a fad, and overly expensive. For me, buying organic means shopping at the local fresh produce market or farm stalls, not from Woolworths. Buying local also means you’re supporting people or companies in your community, and it reduces transportation pollution.
Buying in bulk will also save a lot on expenses, and most bulk stores wont mind if you take your own containers/jars/boxes.
8. Living Zero Waste With Waste Free Products or Make Your Own
This includes, but is not limited to, Tooth Paste, Shampoo, Make Up, Cleaning Supplies & Body Scrub. You’ll save money, and you know exactly what is in it.
Some links to help you out:
- My take on Shampoo & Conditioner,
- Waste Free Mascara, Blush & Lip Balm
- Tooth Paste,
- Cleaning Supplies & Laundry Detergent
- Bug Spray, just to mention a few
9. Go Digital, Get Rid Of Junkmail
Also try to go digital wherever you can. Some changes are really easy. I still use a good old fashioned notebooks, but I now also rely heavily on note taking apps, such as Evernote, Google Keep, or the simple memo function on my phone. No more scribbling stuff down on receipts or napkins for me.
Make the bigger changes too. Did you know that the average office worker uses more than 2 pounds of paper per day? Minimize this by taking notes on your laptop (or note talking apps on your phone) and communicate with your colleague’s via e-mail rather than using paper. Think twice before printing that document or email, and sign up for cloud based document storage solution instead.
Junk mail is the bane of my existence. Not only is it a waste of resources, but also of time. Luckily, there are tools to help you combat this. Register at free services to help you combat the daily onslaught of Junk Mail. There are services include, but are not limited to: www.dmachoice.org, www.optoutprescreen.org & www.catalogchoice.org.
10. Minimize, Downsize & Say No to Unwanted Stuff
Decluttering is where it’s at.
This is something I’m still working on myself. I’m a minimalist stuck in a hoarder’s body. The many, many self help articles and books out there tell me it’s not an overnight change; it’s not as simple as just getting rid of stuff you don’t need. It’s the emotional attachment you have to stuff. I’m working on it. Baby steps. I started with my desk (actually, I’m still busy sorting it out, drawer by drawer and shelf by shelf.) I’m getting there.
Minimizing, downsizing and decluttering come in many different stages of difficulty. Maybe start with clothes you no longer wear. Or the school books you still lug around even though you graduated more than a decade ago (guilty as charged…) Donate it to a local thrift shop, or load everything in your boot, park your car at the local flea market, and let everything go for a $1 or 5.
If you have to replace certain things, buy from second hand and thrift stores instead. The CO2 emissions from clothing production account for 3% of all global emissions. This includes out sourced production, washing, cleaning and shipping. By buying secondhand, you’ll save clothing items from a landfill, and will help to reduce the overall demand for clothing production.
Saying NO to unwanted stuff is easier. Turn down freebies from conferences, fairs, and parties. If you take that pen, lighter, key chain, whatever, you are just creating a bigger demand to make more. You don’t really NEED that item.
Well folks, those are just a few tips. Did I miss anything?
Let me know in the comment sections below!