As a new year has started to unfold and I started packing up my belongings to relocate for my new job in a new city, I became consciously aware of how much I had accumulated over the years. Things that I’d doubled, even tripled up on, things that served no purpose, things that I’d bought on a whim with impulsive desire or false sense of need, without much thought about its impact on the environment. Many of these things, have been sitting in my cupboards untouched for years.
Moving into a new stage of my life, having an income and the power to change the way I live has inspired me to ensure that I am living responsibly and in alignment with my values. This eagerness motivated me to look into the intriguing Zero Waste lifestyle that is being embraced by an increasing number of individuals around the world and inspired me to learn and integrate simple, yet effective, lifestyle changes to decrease my overall waste production and ecological footprint.
WHY SHOULD YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT AND HOW MUCH YOU ARE CONSUMING?
IN Australia the average individual produces 690kg of trash per year and according to Clean up Australia the amount of trash that goes into landfill each year is enough to cover the state of Victoria – how sickeneing! If we all became a little more conscious of what we consume, how it is packaged and make small changes to incorporate the 5 R’s - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rot – into our everyday lives, over our lifetime we could each significantly reduce the amount of waste and pollution that ends up not only in landfill but in our rivers, creeks, bushes, forests, streets, air, ocean and the stomachs of our wildlife.
Calculate the impact that your lifestyle has ecologically over on the WWF website.
Inspiring right? I sure thought so….
According to Zero Waste Life advocates like Bea Johnson, whose family of four generate only a quart-size jar of waste per year, living a zero waste lifestyle is certainly possible. Bea and her family have been living waste free since 2008 and Bea states that there are 5Rs that guide success in achieving such a lifestyle: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rot.
Refuse what you do not need - printed advertisements, plastic straw in your beverage, receipts, paper bills, freebies that you’ll never use, flyers, that third bottle of moisturiser that you’re tempted to buy because it smells nice …
Reduce what you do need - think about what is important to you, become a mindful consumer and eliminate items that you do not deem necessary to live a happy & functional life.
Reuse what you consume - Think about the quality of the products you are consuming – are you purchasing things that you will be able to enjoy for months even years to come? Or are they single use, throw away items? Go for quality over quantity, spend more to consume less which will, inevitably, result in you spending less money in the long run and producing less waste.
Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse - Select items that come in recyclable packaging and if its something you cannot live without or find a way to reuse then put it in the recycling bin. In Australia items labelled with the recycle symbol and any number 1 – 6 can be put in the recycle bins, whilst 7 and EPS can not. For more information check out the Recycle Right website.
Rot (Compost) the rest - Invest in a compost bin; varying types are available for different living arrangements – tips and fact sheets are available on the Recycling Near You website. Some cities even offer compost drop offs where you can take your scraps to a community compost unit where it can then be used as compost to nourish community gardens. There are also websites, such as the one run by the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, that map the community gardens in your state so if you’re not keen on having your own compost unit you can check out if there are any community gardens near you that have compost drop offs.
Lost as to where to begin? Start by making these 5 simple changes, to reduce the negative impact that your lifestyle has on the environment;
The notion of ZERO waste production may seem a bit unattainable or challenging for some (myself included considering my line of work) but lets face it, the integrity of our ecosystem relies on our ability to make responsible, sustainable and environmentally conscious choices and I feel there is a lot to be learnt from this dedicated and rather impressive way of life.
1. BUY FROM BULK BINS & USE GLASS JARS FOR STORAGE
I love reusing coconut oil jars and saurkraut jars as they are a great size for nuts, seeds and grains. It also makes all of your staples easy to see and store. Also taking your own jars or cloth bags to stores where you can buy bulk products reduces the amount of single use wasteful packaging enormously. Making this change will also encourage you to eat better – reducing your consumption of pre-packaged foods and encouraging healthier fresher choices. This BULK FINDER allows you to search for stores that stock bulk items that can be purchased sans packaging. A beautiful friend, Colour by Courtney, also suggested using old candle pots/jars as make-up brush holders – which I got straight onto after receiving her tip.
2. GET ON THE FOOD PREP TRAIN -
Food prep can be a life saver, preventing hunger fueled store bought lunches which are generally heavily packaged and 90% of the time nowhere near as healthy as it would have been had you made it. PLUS food prepping ensures you utilise the food that you spent your hard earned dollars on when you did your groceries, preventing it from going to waste and/or spoiling. Its best to plan what you are going to make for the week before you do your shopping or to play master chef and use up what you already have in the fridge, pantry or freezer to ensure you don’t end up with a heap of produce needing to be thrown away. If you like to eat out every now and then cook enough meals to cover 70-80% of the required snacks/lunches/dinners for the week, this way you have a bit of leeway if you decide to head out or if you have a craving for something else entirely.
3. GET YOURSELF A REUSABLE COFFEE CUP
This change was the first to take place for me after I began thinking more about my consumption and waste production. With each coffee I ordered the guilt deepened and I realised that there was a simple solution – use my own keep cup. I mean had I not purchased it years before with the intention of using it?! Now it pretty much lives in my handbag. A bonus is that not only are you stopping the disposable coffee cups from piling up in your car slash creating unnecessary trash BUT a lot of places will give you a small discount or size upgrade for using your own cup.
4. USE CLOTH/TOTE BAGS INSTEAD OF PLASTIC BAGS
This one is massive, with Aussies using up to 4 billion plastic bags per year, and a saddening number not even making it to landfill but ending up in our oceans and harming our wildlife. This is one that requires a bit of getting used to, for me anyway as I am just terrible at having them on me when I need them. Purchasing a carry bag that folds up into itself can be an easy way to carry one with you in your handbag for those impromptu trips to the store. Stash some in your car, carry one in your handbag or if you are only buying a few items… just carry them! Buying fresh fruit and vegetables that are free from packaging is a smart move also – eg. go for the loose zucchini’s instead of the ones on a tray that have been cling-wrapped in place, its a lot of unnecessary plastic that just ends up in landfill.
5. REPLACE TAMPONS WITH A MENSTRUAL CUP
After receiving many recommendations over the years I have finally decided to get on-board with the menstrual cup. By using a menstrual cup in place of pads or tampons you can spare landfill thousands of sanitary items and save yourself dollars over the course of your life. A cup, which can be left insitu for up to 12hours and is made from medical grade hypoallergenic silicon, costs about $50 and can last for up to 10years. When you consider how much you spend on tampons in a year you’ll quickly realise its an investment that pays for itself. JuJu, an Australian owned and TGA approved company, have a users guide on their website containing useful information about how to insert, remove, clean, store and disinfect the menstrual cup.
OTHER THINGS YOU COULD TRY -
- Introduce meat free Monday
- Ride or walk, where possible
- Carpool, when able
- Switch from individual tea bags to loose leaf tea
- Get an egg timer and aim to have shorter showers
- Switch from coffee pods to a coffee peculator
- Learn to store your fruit, vegetables and herbs properly to extend their fridge life
- Utilise scraps and leftovers instead of throwing them away
Sarah Wilson has some great tips for the last two points in her book Simplicious
If you want to know more or integrate other changes Going Zero Waste, Trash is for Tossers, & Zero Waste Nerd have some great tips for zero waste alternatives and 30 day guides/challenges to inspire and empower you to take steps towards slashing your trash quota. Suggestions include researching how to make products such as your own toothpaste, washing detergent and skin care products, buying pre-loved goods, using rags made from old clothes in place of paper towel, switching to biodegradable toilet paper and using appliances, containers, utensils & straws made from recycled glass, wood, metal or biodegradable materials in place of “single use” or plastic items that breakdown over time and are said to release potentially harmful chemicals into our food. Live Zero Waste also goes so far as to offer mentoring, tips and personal check-ins for those wanting to pledge to go 1 day, 1 month or even 1 year waste free.
Have something to add or contribute to this topic? Please share your thoughts, tips, resources and/or recommendations for reducing waste in the comments!