When it comes to living an eco-friendly lifestyle, there are always more things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. Zero waste is one of the latest concepts; you’ve probably heard of the people who can fit a year’s worth of rubbish into a small glass jar. It’s inspirational, yet they are often called privileged extremists and criticised for driving, using toilet paper or owning anything made of plastic.
Going zero waste may seem daunting, but with the population becoming increasingly wasteful, something has to change. In 2015, UK households binned £13bn worth of food that could have been eaten. But it’s not just food that ends up in our bins – household items are also a huge culprit. According to Ovo Energy, around 50 million tonnes of electrical waste is produced globally every year, and 83% of perfectly good sofas in the UK are sent to the dump rather than being rehomed. Disposable nappies and sanitary products, kitchen roll, cotton buds, old clothes, razors and plastic packaging are also common household rubbish items.
Zero waste seems like the perfect solution, and, although it does require some effort and a little planning, it can be done. Zero waste and vegan blogger Shia Su from Wasteland Rebel shares some expert advice on going waste-free.
What is the best thing about living waste-free?
The empowerment that comes with learning that we are not just consumers whose role in life is to earn money to spend money. Before I embarked on this journey, I felt small, insignificant, and limited to what the supermarket had to offer. Learning that I could live life on my own terms, closer aligned with my own values makes me so much happier!
What do you think would make it easier for people to live waste-free?
If it was more the rule and not the exception. I have never been a shy person. However, I do know that asking for “No straw, please”, “Oh, and no napkin either!”, and “Can I use my own food containers at your bulk bins?” can be a horrifying thought for many people.
What is the one piece of advice you could give to someone who is just starting their zero waste journey?
Be kind to yourself and to people around you. You will fail at some point, so what? It is like a toddler learning to walk: they will inevitably fall. Over and over. But you don’t see them getting all frustrated and quitting, right? Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember to have fun with it! There is so much to discover, so much to explore! Also remember to be kind to others around you. In my experience, family and friends need time to adjust, and eventually, it will rub off here and there. It might take years, or a decade, but they will get used to it eventually.
When you go to a store, try to put yourself into the shoes of the staff member you are interacting with, and try to make it as stress-free for them as possible. Working in the service industry is hard work, and you have to deal with so many unpleasant customers. Show them some appreciation, smile, be nice! Do not insist on your special request when a place is swamped and everyone working there already struggling to keep up with orders.
Read on to find out how you too can start your zero waste journey.
Going vegan is one of the best things you can do for the environment, but it doesn’t automatically mean that you will be creating less waste. Andy Jessop, from leading online commercial waste and recycling publication Commercial Waste, says: “Personally, I think the vegan diet is often overlooked for its environmental benefits, which (although not a vegan myself) are great. When I chat with people about diets and the environment, I always refer them to the Vegan Calculator, which is a really great way of working out the green benefits of going vegan. Like any diet however, I feel it’s important to enjoy locally sourced food wherever possible, and to pay attention to products that are sustainably sourced.”
Buying essentials such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses at local shops and markets where possible usually means you have the option to buy goods loose, taking them home in your own plastic-free containers. You’ll also be supporting small businesses instead of corporate companies. There are health benefits that come with avoiding excess packaging too, since it’s hard to buy processed foods without plastic. It can be tricky to give up things like snack bars, which normally come in plastic wrappers, as any vegan will tell you how handy they are for keeping in your bag when you feel peckish! Instead, browse the Internet for copycat recipes and spend an hour or two every week baking delicious homemade snacks, which you can then store in tins and wrap in reusable cotton or vegan wax wraps.
Other tips to reduce food waste:
- Inedible food waste such as fruit skins and vegetable peelings can be composted. If you’re not able to have your own compost bin, ask your neighbours if they have one you could use.
- Are you throwing away out-of-date or unused food? If so, it’s a good idea to start meal planning and taking a list when you go shopping so you only buy what you need. Avoid buy-one-get-one-free offers unless it’s for something you know you will use, or donate the extra items to a food bank.
- If you have leftovers, these can usually be kept in the fridge and reheated for tomorrow’s lunch.
- If you do find yourself with unwanted food (especially if it’s something you bought but didn’t like), use an app such as Olio to find people in your area who will gladly take it off your hands.
Instead of throwing away unwanted clothes, donate them to charities such as Made with Love, a global charitable recycling initiative to support the fashion and clothing industry to reduce its negative environmental impact and help people in need around the world. The aim is to connect businesses with charities who give directly to people in need such as homeless citizens, refugees, or international aid. In the UK alone between 1.1 and 1.4 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away each year, around 1/3 of which are good quality clothing items that could be re-used. By donating surplus products and any unsaleable yet wearable items, brands, retailers and manufacturers can have a positive impact on these statistics.
The first partner charity to this initiative to be announced is Dress For Success which empowers women across the world to achieve economic independence through their employment ‘suiting programs’. These aim to provide disadvantaged women with professional interview and work attire. Made With Love are also supporting NGOs working at refugee camps in Greece who urgently require clothing for children aged 5 and under.
Developed and launched by Certified Made in the UK, Made With Love will be an ongoing initiative and many more partner charities will be announced soon. Founder, Debbie Moorhouse says: “This is an opportunity for brands and the fashion industry to be a force for good and collectively make a difference while also improving sustainability.”
When it comes to shopping, buy less and choose well so that both the clothes and the style will last for years to come.
Instead of kitchen roll, use washable cloths for cleaning surfaces and wiping up spills, and clean tea towels for drying fruit and vegetables. Ditch disposable sponges in favour of biodegradable washing-up loofahs, which last for months and can be composted afterwards.
If you need straws to help you drink, buy some bamboo or stainless steel ones which can be washed and reused again and again. Keep them in your bag so you always have them handy, along with a bamboo takeaway cup and a glass water bottle.
Use bamboo pegs instead of plastic ones, and wash your clothes with soapnuts instead of bottled laundry detergent. You can reuse soapnuts several times before adding them to your compost bin, meaning they are far cheaper than other laundry products, not to mention kinder to your skin. If you miss the fragrance of detergent, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the bag of soapnuts.
Recycle as much as you can, either through your local kerbside recycling scheme or at a recycling centre.
Use washable cotton pads instead of disposable ones for skincare, and designate a flannel or muslin cloth for nail polish removal. Keep some cotton or bamboo hankies to hand instead of packs of tissues, and swap plastic toothbrushes for biodegradable bamboo ones.
Opt for washable sanitary pads (and nappies if you have a little one) and menstrual cups, and invest in a metal safety razor instead of disposable plastic razors.
Use unpackaged bar soap instead of handwash and shower gel, and see if you can get your shampoo and conditioner bottles refilled at a health food shop. Making your own beauty products is also a great way to avoid plastic.
Header photo by StockSnap, spices photo by Monicore, clothes photo by StockSnap, washing line photo by TheVirtualDenise, soap photo by Silviarita, all via Pixabay.