First Steps To Zero Waste – Tips on changing products, habits and mindsetsWiebke Venter
Hearing the term “Zero Waste” can be quite intimidating. The truth is, when we talk about Zero Waste we don´t literally mean zero waste. Generating no waste at all is simply impossible. While zero waste is an amazing idea, it’s important to know that “zero waste” is an ideal. It is nothing more magical than simply trying to live less wastefully, one small step at a time.
When you start your journey towards a less wasteful life there are some things you need to change. I don´t solely mean the swaps you can make or the old habits you need to leave behind you. It is also a shift of mindset.
First of all, you shouldn´t compare yourself to people on social media, who are doing everything perfectly and just having a glass jar full of waste every year. They are professionals and experts and living that lifestyle for years. However, in the end they also started out just like you. The goal of their profile is to inspire. So rather, get inspired than frustrated.
To begin with, use up what you have. Finish your shampoos, disposable razors, shower gels, plastic water bottles, kitchen sponges etc. and then only replace it with reusable and sustainable alternatives. Throwing everything away that you want to replace, defeats the point.
Start with one room that bothers you the most and write down everything that causes a lot of waste. Then think about what items you can replace with a more sustainable alternative, or even abstain from completely. Do it for a few days or weeks and then move on to the next area or room. Instead of just writing down you can also collect your waste for a week (ideally wash it) and go through it after a week to check what you have actually thrown away. By consciously dealing with your garbage, you become aware of your (unnecessary) consumption.
Change your mindset in terms of money: Even if plastic free products seem more expensive, ask yourself: “What is the true cost of plastic?” It might be cheap now, but it ends up costing the Earth. If you make some calculations, you will also find that you can actually save some good money with the right products. Read here how to save money with a zero waste lifestyle.
When you are ready to take action, rather make small adjustments and swaps at first. The easiest place to start is your bathroom. Make simple bathroom swaps that don´t require a new habit but are rather a “greener” decision like a bamboo toothbrush, a solid soap bar, face cream in a glass jar or a safety razor. They are super easy to implement as first steps and just as good as conventional products. Another way to reduce plastic is to make your own. Find some DIY ideas here.
Furthermore, refuse freebies that you don´t use anyway or are packed in tiny little plastic bags or tubs like sample shower gel, deodorant, pens, or magnets. It becomes clutter and perhaps leads to another pointless purchase. If someone wants to hand you pamphlets or flyers, kindly decline. Rather take a pic with your phone or save the contact straight away.
Food and food packaging is the biggest plastic waste generator
A look into your garbage bin tells you that the most waste you are producing, especially single used plastic-waste, is coming from your kitchen. More than one third of all produced plastic is plastic packaging used in the food sector.
There are many ways to avoid plastic when it comes to meal preparation and grocery shopping. For instance, growing your own herbs and even veggies. A meatless Monday is a good idea too. Eating less meat and dairies is not only good for our climate, eating more plant-based meals also means less plastic packaging as most of animal products come in single-used plastic. Visit the farmers market and feast on local food. If you buy mostly vegetables, you can make the biggest part of your grocery shopping in markets and most of them are unpacked and cheaper.
When grocery shopping, prefer glass or aluminium packaging to single used plastic as those materials are better recyclable. Bury old habits for single used plastics, like buying water bottles. Rather use a reusable water bottle. Have all your reusable bags, including fresh produce mesh bags or cotton bags close to your door or in the car to have them ready to go when it´s time for grocery shopping.
With a smart way of grocery shopping you can also avoid a lot of food waste. Buy ugly vegetables and fruits like single bananas or weirdly shaped bell peppers. People tend to buy the most beautiful produce and the ugly ones are staying behind and getting disposed off. Plan your meals and opt for smaller portion sizes (to avoid leftovers). The best way to avoid food and money waste is to make sure you only purchase, cook and consume the food you can actually eat. A good planning is the base for that.
If you still have leftovers, replace cling wrap with wax wraps to cover cut tomatoes, avos or cucumbers. Use bowl covers or simply cover plates and bowls with other plates. You can also use reusable containers to store your food leftovers.
When you invite friends, rather serve homemade snacks. Sweets and crisps out of the bag sweeten our evening far too often and are somehow a bit impersonal.
Throw your organic waste on the compost. If you don’t have one, you can start with the Bokashi system. Find out more about it here.
In our busy lives, we are not only eating and drinking at home. This makes more space for disposables around meals outside of home like plastic cutlery, to-go coffee cups or plastic straws. However, for these things there are more eco-friendly alternatives: Refuse the straw when out for a drink. Rather bring your own reusable straws. Stash your cutlery from home or coconut cutlery for food markets. Always bring reusable coffee cups for a quick stop at your favourite coffee shop. Simply, leave these items in your bag or car to have them with you all the time.
Other Earth-conscious actions
Part of a zero waste lifestyle and mindset is also to consume consciously, save resources such as energy and water as well as use what has already been produced. That entails repairing broken items where possible as well as upcycling old, unneeded or broken items. Pinterest is an amazing platform for inspiration. Simply type in what you´ve got, add “upcycling” and find endless ideas. You can also cut old T-Shirts, pyjama pants or jerseys to use them as dish and wiping cloths instead of paper towels. For those clothes that are still good but you don´t wear anymore; organise a clothes swap party with your friends or visit a thrift fest for your next shopping tour.
Take your bike or walk wherever possible, even use your skates or scooter. Avoid unnecessary trips or combine trips instead of going back and forth several times a week or a day. When using your car, check your tyre pressure and avoid extra fuel.
Unplug your electronics for one day in the week or early enough to use some natural candles in the evening. Instead of throwing your laundry in the dryer, hang your laundry on the line. A very simple alternative to save energy! Try out these amazing stainless steel pegs that are not only stylish, but also last forever and are completely plastic free.
Take a speedy shower and make sure water is not running unnecessary when e.g. brushing your teeth, handwashing dishes etc.
A last word
Don´t stop if it doesn’t work out as you wish in a day. It´s a journey step by step. And it is important to do something in any case rather than to do nothing at all. Therefore, if you forgot your bottle at home, don’t die of thirst. You can buy a bottle of water and forgive yourself that you can’t do everything perfect every day and that you might also forget something sometimes .
Do you have more tips for starting a zero waste lifestyle? Let us know in the comments!