We’ve seen plant-based diets and minimalist lifestyles grow ever more popular in recent times. It’s no surprise, either. We’re finally waking up to the need to take care of our planet. A logical next step that I’ve been noticing slowly creep in is interest in living a low or “zero waste” lifestyle. Popularized by the likes of the charismatic and beautiful Lauren Singer from Trash Is For Tossers, we’ve got more and more lovely people–young and old–taking a look at the footprints they’re leaving and how they can switch to more sustainable consumption instead.
It’s neither fun nor sexy, but we simply must start talking about our trash. In particular, the non-biodegradable kind. So yes, the plastics. In the western world, we live very much in an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We pay our taxes, get our trash collected from the curb, and are never forced to look at all the waste that we consume. Imagine–just for a minute–if your trash was your responsibility. Imagine if no one came to collect it for you each week, and instead, it was your job to store it, bury it, or burn it. We’d change our approach to packaging pretty swiftly I reckon.
The thing is, although your trash doesn’t sit on your property, it, unfortunately, sits somewhere in an ever-expanding landfill site. Worse still, it gets carried away in the wind and pollutes a nearby natural space. Or, it ends up in the sea, degrading over time into microplastics. Ellen MacArthur said there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 at the rate we’re going. That’s a pretty morbid thought.
The good news is that we can change the current state of affairs. It doesn’t require a bottomless wallet, a Hollywood physique, or a killer super power. All that’s needed is determination, some basic resources, and a little creativity thrown in for good measure. If you’d like to make an empowering change in your own life and start living waste free, keep reading.
1. The first step is to change your mindset. This is the really important one. You need to train yourself to be prepared wherever you go and alter your shopping habits. But fear not! This needn’t be overwhelming. Take it one baby step at a time, day by day, and you’ll learn as you go. Every positive decision you make counts, no matter how small. It’s all a learning curve, but over time, things will get easier and you’ll come to be familiar with how to get around those obstacles that you once encountered. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and why it is important to you. This will give you the determination to carry on even when things get tough.
2. Research everything you possibly can. Start with your local recycling centers. Investigate what materials you can successfully recycle and take solace in knowing that you don’t have to live like Georgina of the Jungle. You can still do the city chic thing. Next, research your city. Find out where your local farmer’s markets are (these will become your best friend), which stores have bulk bins for things like grains, pulses, nuts, seeds and fruits (also will become your best friend). Thirdly, research anywhere you travel to prior to going there so that you can arrive relatively prepared. Find out where the markets are, appropriate stores with loose goods, and anything else that might concern you.
3. Spend a week carrying a notebook wherever you go. Record every time you consume single-use plastics. This might be a straw automatically put in your cocktail at a bar. It might be a grocery store that automatically packs your items in a plastic bag. Whatever it is, find out what waste you actually encounter in your daily life. Start being aware of how you might be able to offer an alternative in those situations in future.
4. Create your daily “zero waste” essentials stash. This will include a reusable tote bag or two for any purchases made (one that packs down small means you’re more likely to take it everywhere), a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, stainless steel straw, cotton produce bags, tupperware or a stainless steel container, and silverware. Obviously, it’s unnecessary to carry all of these items with you every day, but prepare yourself each morning by anticipating what you might need that day and be sure to pack it in your bag.
5. Gradually replace household items with more sustainable alternatives. Look here for 5 easy hacks to start you off. But long term, simply look at what’s in your trash can and ask what you can do instead to cut out that waste. For me, the biggest proportion of my waste was food packaging from fruits and vegetables purchased in supermarkets. This was easily eradicated by switching to a weekly shop from a farmer’s market. Zero packaging, fresher produce and much better prices (hello six avocados for the price of two in the grocery store!) was a no-brainer alternative. Also, get yourself some jars and start shopping for your grains, pulses, nuts, seeds and dried fruits in the bulk bins. You’re not having to pay for packaging, so these will often work out much cheaper. There will likely also be a system where the more you buy equals a lower cost per pound, so these are great places to stock up. Air-tight jars are much more effective at reducing spoilage than plastic packaging with those terrible little self-sealing stickers anyway!
6. Look at the bigger picture. Most of what we’re concerned about when we talk about “zero waste” is, of course, plastics. But there are other important ways that you can reduce your waste, too. The first is switching to a second-hand mentality. Of course, this doesn’t mean purchasing everything second-hand, but consider it a great way to give a home to a pre-loved item and stop it going to landfill. If there’s nothing wrong with it, why not give it a new lease of life? Aside from second-hand shopping, the other way you reduce your waste is to invest your time and money in companies focusing on building a circular economy. These are those businesses putting time and effort into innovative products built to last. But it stretches further than material goods. Look at travel firms, energy suppliers, and car retailers. Invest in those doing good so we can see more of their excellent work in this world in the future.
Have you ever been interested in trying to live zero waste? What are some changes you could make today?
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