I don't know about you, but I often shed a tear when I see all the waste around me every day. Plastic bags and bottles choking our rivers and oceans. Rainforest being cleared at a catastrophic rate. Perfectly edible food thrown in the trash. Tonnes of working, usable stuff being thrown in to landfill.
The worst part is, it's all our fault. As human beings that is.
That's why I decided to go zero waste. I'm not a full on hippie or anything like that, but I found out that with a few simple changes, I can honestly say that I'm no longer a part of the problem.
Fancy joining me? It's easier than you might think.
Today I'll give you some simple tips to help you start living that zero waste lifestyle.
Zero waste living is a way of life that reduces the amount of "waste" you produce. Zero waste means all waste gets reused, recycled, composted, or upcycled instead of being thrown into a landfill or incinerator.
Perfecting the art of avoiding trash won't happen overnight. It's not something you can check off your list once and then forget about.
But when you start to notice how much trash you are producing, it can be very motivating to let go of the unnecessary things in your life and adopt a zero waste lifestyle.
In my experience, there's a lot more freedom than struggle with this way of living. It's a challenge that will make you a better person, one who is more thoughtful and conscientious of the things around them.
We all need to do whatever we can to live a zero waste life, or as close as possible. Recycling is important, but it's not the solution to the issues the planet faces.
Modern society seems to have adopted a carefree, disposable attitude in which we don't care or even recognize how many raw materials we waste, or where they end up. This is putting an incredible strain on the planet and our fragile environment.
As Bea Johnson explains, the zero waste movement isn't about recycling more, it's actually about recycling less - because we use less in the first place.
I'll give you some specific tips to follow later in this article. But as a general guide, these are the so called "5 R's of zero waste living".
A zero waste lifestyle doesn't have to effect your quality of life. In fact in many ways, it improves. You'll be healthier and save money for a start.
If you're serious about going zero waste, try to follow as many of these tips as you can. Buy anything's better than nothing, so just see how many you can realistically incorporate into your own life.
When shopping, try not to get distracted by promotion and marketing strategies which tend to place us into a buying frenzy. Many people buy more items than they actually need just because they are on offer, and end up throwing away the excess because they've bought too much.
If you always buy what you need, rather than what is in front of you or displayed at an appealing price, you will soon see that your shopping bill has dramatically decreased.
Either a glass or a stainless steel container is the best option if you want to cut back on plastic packaging. They are easy to clean, easy to carry and can be reused almost indefinitely. They are a must for dry goods such as coffee beans, lentils or grains, but will also replace plastic food containers in your home when it comes to nuts, olives or cheese.
Simple stainless-steel containers will even replace the classic tin can in your kitchen. These stainless steel tins fit perfectly into the fridge and are leak-proof. Just make sure you always wash them thoroughly with hot soapy water after use, dry them and store them in a cupboard away from light sources.
Single use plastic bags are a major contribution to global plastic pollution. Always use reusable bags when doing grocery or any other type of shopping.
If you find yourself forgetting to take your reusable bags with you, a great tip is to simply keep them in your car. Make sure there is no designated place for them in the house. So whenever you unpack your groceries, you'll be reminded to return the reusable bags to your trunk or passenger footwell, and they'll be waiting for you next time you need them.
Larger quantities usually use less packaging than single items, and they're cheaper too.
By buying non-perishable food and other items such as toilet paper, dish soap, and shampoo in larger quantities, you are reducing packaging waste as well as saving money.
When possible, buy loose items such as nuts, beans, dried fruits and cereal instead of buying packaged ones. This is a great way to avoid waste.
A few years ago this sort of thing wouldn't have been possible, but in 2021 more stores and supermarkets are catering for customers looking to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.
Most bulk stores will sell containers if you don't already have something suitable, but they're also perfectly happy for you to bring your own.
If your local grocery store doesn't sell loose items (and you can't switch to one that does) then at least try to buy items with recycled packaging instead.
It is very easy to be drawn into the trap of consuming and purchasing items that are shiny, new and never used. But if you make zero waste living a priority, this is something you should try to avoid.
There are so many things that you can buy second hand.
Many products have a long life and the quality of these items will not be negatively impacted by the fact they have been used before.
Tools, clothing, books, toys and games are great examples of things I would have no hesitation in buying second hand. It's another great way to reduce waste and save money at the same time.
If you can't find any suitable second hand clothing and need to buy new, then at least make sure you shop at ethical and sustainable fashion brands so you know your garments have been produced and shipped in an eco-friendly manner.
It is estimated that the US discards 40 million tons of food every year (that's 40% of the food we produce). On average, American families will throw away between 15-20% of the food they purchase.
This equates to around $1500 per year that could have been saved, but was instead thrown in the garbage!
Is that enough to make you sit up and take notice? It certainly was for me.
One way to manage this is by planning meals better and encouraging your family to eat leftovers when it is appropriate. It's also helpful for you and those around you to better understand what food is still edible after being cooked and how long it lasts.
One example of this is the understanding between when foods go bad or past their prime. The truth is that, other than meat and produce, expiration dates on most food don't actually mean it's gone bad, so there's no need to throw it away.
Try planning out your meals for the week on Sundays if you're able to. It will help you stay organized and eat all of your leftovers before they go bad so you aren't wasting perfectly good groceries or money!
Another thing we can do is learn to be more creative with our food. The last time I checked, the internet was full of recipes!
Here are some ideas on what you can do with items that have reached their best before date
There are many reasons why we should compost our food scraps. We can reduce the amount of trash that goes to the landfill and create rich soil for plants.
Composting is a great way to use leftover food parts and other organic waste products, such as yard clippings and house plants, to improve your garden soil or start your own organic vegetable and flower gardens. It's also a great way to reuse products that would be otherwise wasted - like eggshells, tea bags and leaves, or fruit scraps.
Stop buying disposable lunches if you're away from home. Instead, bring your own food with you.
When packing your lunch, reduce your waste as much as possible:
- Use reusable containers and wash them.
- Avoid disposable plastic cutlery and use something that you already own.
- For bread, try to find a paper bag at home or in the grocery store, or go for reusable sandwich bags.
- Avoid plastic saran wrap and use reusable beeswax wraps or old towels instead.
Doing this saves you money (bringing your own food is almost always cheaper) and helps the environment as a part of your zero waste lifestyle.
It's time to say no to plastic and switch to reusable water bottles instead. Plastic bottles are made from petroleum (a non-renewable resource) and take about 1,000 years to biodegrade. Not only that, the water in single use bottles is just filtered and purified tap water. Why would you pay for something that comes from your own kitchen sink? Tap water is free!
Switching to using a reusable bottle will help reduce single-use plastics, which are harmful to our health and environment. Every zero waste home should have one!
Our guide to the best reusable water bottles will show you the most eco friendly and affordable options.
Buy an eco-friendly insulated coffee mug, and fill it up at home with your daily coffee instead of buying one each morning. What's even better is that this one simple step can save you money as well.
Even if you need a refill, most coffee shops will be more than happy to fill your own cup instead of a disposable one.
The world uses a staggering 16 billion disposable coffee cups each year. It's hard to imagine all the waste this creates. If everyone simply took their own cups with them, it could be a massive step towards a zero waste lifestyle.
Do you know how many pounds of paper towels are used each year? If you guessed 13 billion, you would be correct – and that is such a huge amount! If we stopped using paper towels and napkins today, it would make a drastic reduction in waste.
It's true that most paper towels and napkins can be recycled, but recycling paper is never as good as not using it in the first place.
Switch to a washable towel or cloth to dry your hands instead. Likewise, try cloth napkins at the dinner table in place of paper napkins, and see how much less waste you can produce.
One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away in the USA each year. So stop buying them! If you brush your teeth manually, try an eco-friendly manual bamboo toothbrush.
If your dentist has recommended an electric toothbrush, then buy an eco-friendly electric toothbrush with bamboo heads. Unlike plastic, bamboo will biodegrade as little as 6 months, making it a sustainable and zero waste option for your dental care.
When it comes to living a Zero Waste, or even zero-impact lifestyle, one of the easiest places to start is with your daily skincare routine. You may love your fancy facial cleanser that costs $50 for 4 oz of product that comes in an opaque plastic bottle and pumps out way more than you need at a time, but now is the time to make that change.
Yep, just plain old bar soap from the grocery store will be a great replacement for your daily wash. Most people tend to use way too much product with pumps, soaps, gels etc., when all we need is one small pea-sized drop to get clean. Not to mention that plastic packaging!
You can reduce waste by repairing any items wherever possible. It doesn't matter that much whether it is a pair of shoes, a shirt, a piece of furniture or the washing machine - fix what you can, and avoid buying new.
If you don't have the skills to fix it, look for a local tradesman who can! Repairing an item is almost always cheaper than replacing it.
If your item has genuinely reached the end of its life, remember to recycle, don't throw it in the trash.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen my friends and family go to the store just to buy the latest trend in fashion, gadgets or games, etc. Marketers spend billions whipping up a consumer frenzy over the latest products. Yes Apple, I'm looking at you!
But a lot of these items are just fads and they don't have any real value other than being used once in a while, if ever.
Wait until the trend dies out and then ask yourself if you still need it? If so, then that's the time to buy (it'll usually be cheaper anyway.) But nine times out of ten the answer will be no.
What do you already have around your home that can help you zero waste? Reuse what you already own instead of buying new items.
It might seem obvious, but one easy way to a zero waste life is by avoiding disposable products in favour of those that will be used and re-used.
Many people believe that a zero waste lifestyle will be too hard, too expensive or make their life less enjoyable. But as you can see, that really isn't the case.
Going waste free will usually make your life better. You'll certainly be richer and healthier, and almost certainly happier in the knowledge that you're not filling the world with trash.
Tomorrow is a good time to start, but today would be even better...