Thinking about going zero waste? You’re not alone and it’s not hard to see why. Almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. By 2050, there will be more pieces of plastic in the sea than fish. We’re collectively using about 2.5 times more resources than the planet can provide.
People are starting to wake up to this and are adopting a “zero waste lifestyle” – eliminating waste wherever possible. Some are blogging their journeys and showing everyone else how to go zero waste – usually by storing a year’s worth of waste in a jar and acting a bit smug about it.
Is it just me, or do those glass jars look a little daunting? Well, as Lindsay Miles points out in her blog post One Year’s Worth Of Trash, not everything makes it into the glass jars. Different people have different rules, and the glass jar concept invites comparison. This would probably work for some people. It wouldn’t work for me.
Zero waste is a very individual thing. Every journey is different because we all lead very different lives. This post will help you get started on your own terms.
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Track your waste
The first thing you need to do is get a clear picture of what and how you’re throwing away. I call this a waste audit, but if you can think of something that sounds less like watching paint dry to call it, you go on ahead! A waste audit helps you track your waste, so you know what you throw away the most. Write down every item you throw away and how you dispose of it for the next week or so. This is your starting point. From that you’ll be able to see what you can divert from landfill easily, what you can swap, and what you can reuse too.
Know what you can recycle easily
The easiest way to recycle is by using your local authority’s kerbside recycling collection – if you’re lucky enough to live in Wales like me, chances are you’re already recycling quite a lot. We’re the second best country in the world for household recycling! Other places you could check are your local supermarket (for stretchy plastics) or Terracycle for all sorts of materials that aren’t usually recycled.
Make zero waste swaps
Next, go through your waste audit and find a few items to swap out. Go for things that are easily swapped and will have a high impact. Splosh cleaning products were one of my zero waste wins, as has been my weekly fruit and veg box. Check my plastic free toolkit for other ideas.
Reduce your food waste
The most effective ways to reduce food waste are batch cooking and meal planning. I love to batch cook – I have a set of five or six meals that I cook once a month or so in a batch big enough for at least two meals. The leftovers get put in the freezer and pulled out again as needed. We’re not where I want us to be yet, but this is one of the areas I feel most confident. Anybody can do it! Some of my favourite recipes are tofu saag, sweet potato and broccoli curry and potato and leek soup.
Leave the waste in the shop
When buying school uniform for my sons, I noticed how many hangers I was trying to cram into my bag. I already have all the hangers I need at home and as far as I know they aren’t recyclable. I started taking the clothes off. The assistant hadn’t asked if I wanted the hangers, but when she saw me taking the clothes off the hangers, she followed my lead. If you want to take it even further, you could leave the excess plastic packaging from all your shopping there, like a small-scale Plastic Attack.
Ask yourself if you really need what you’re buying? If you can do without it, leave it on the shelf. This saves you money as well as the planet. In 2020 I’ve pledged to buy nothing new and it’s really helped me take a minute to consider whether or not I need the bigger things I’m looking for. That said, this mindset can work on anything from treadmills (the lockdown purchase I didn’t make) to biscuits. Even second-hand goods are going to come wrapped in something.
Bulk buy necessities
Buying necessities in bulk can often mean less packaging as you aren’t buying lots of little sets of packaging. Some foods bought in bulk come in better kinds of packaging too – rice bought in 500g packs come in plastic, while larger packs* often come in strong brown paper sacks. If you don’t think you’d get through that much, pool with another family or two and divide the cost.
Reuse what you can
Stop thinking of the items you throw away as waste and start thinking about them as materials. What can you do with the materials you have in your home? In recent months I’ve made vegan wax wraps and make up pads from old pyjamas and ecobricks from the plastic waste I can’t recycle. My favourite festival Green Gathering has loads of ideas on how to reuse things.
Stop comparing your journey to others
Comparison will stop you in your tracks. It doesn’t matter if someone else is doing it better than you can! The most important thing is that you’re committed to reducing the waste that comes through your home. You’re the best judge of how you can get there.
The most important thing to do? Start today. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Do something today that will mean you have less waste next week. Do something next week that will mean you have even less waste. Keep going – let it snowball. Because that’s how meaningful change happens. Little by little, one step at a time. Good luck and let me know how it goes. I’m on the journey too – I’ll be right with you.