Plastic Not-So-Fantastic: How To Go Zero Waste

18 December 2019 - by Jenna Thompson

If each of us gathered up our plastic waste each week, we would probably be surprised by just how much we throw away. Disposable products are part of the system; trying to exist in the modern world without plastic can feel like an impossible task. As such, many of us feel intimidated by the idea of going zero waste. Where to even begin? 

Once you open your eyes to the plastic problem, you start to see it everywhere. But going zero waste doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process: difficult for the perfectionists among us to accept. With a little forethought and a lot of inspiration, we can all do our best to move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle – and even save some money in the process.

Use what you already own 

A lot of people think going zero waste will be expensive because they’ll have to buy all-new products. But you don’t have to buy a heap of new things to be zero waste – that kind of defeats the object. Get creative with what you already have.

Glass jars have endless uses, from food storage to composting. Old t-shirts can be repurposed into headbands and tote bags. Worn or mismatched socks can become arm warmers, potpourri sachets and dog chew toys.

Reducing disposable waste 

Plastic pollution has received a lot more media coverage over the last few years. We are all aware of the massive waste problem we are facing – and it’s scary.

It’s very easy to overburden yourself at the start of your zero waste journey. Don’t try to do everything at once. A good place to start is with your disposable items, things like water bottles, coffee cups and plastic bags. These single-use products are responsible for a whole lot of unnecessary waste.

Observe your habits for one week to see where your waste is coming from, then list what you could replace or remove. Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket, replace paper towels with reusable rags, and pack meals in a food container or reusable sandwich bag.

Buy things in bulk

Disposable containers generate millions of tonnes of plastic waste every year, pandering to consumers’ desire for convenience. A little planning is all that’s needed to eliminate these disposables from your home.

A well-executed bulk purchase will not only reduce waste, but also save money in the long term. Consider these tips:

  • Bring your containers to the grocery store
  • Never bulk buy an item you haven’t tried before
  • Don’t buy perishable goods in bulk (unless you plan to use them immediately)
  • Make sure you have enough storage space for bulk items
  • Don’t buy everything at once – replace items as they run low
  • Split larger bulk purchases with friends and family

But don’t buy everything at once

You do not need to buy every zero waste alternative at once.

Unless you’re someone who enjoys a complete overhaul once in a while – and you have some spare cash – it’s easier to buy zero waste alternatives once your non-zero waste items run out.

If you just bought a set of electric toothbrush heads, use them up and then switch to a recyclable alternative. Otherwise, you’re just throwing away an unused item, which isn’t very eco-friendly either.

While we’re on the subject, research how to properly recycle, donate, sell or upcycle anything you don’t want. Remember, the goal of zero waste living is to keep as much waste as possible out of landfill. Compost and recycle as much as you can.

Gift items to friends or drop them at a local charity shop. For anything else, take a look at TerraCycle, the innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling typically hard-to-recycle waste.

Green cleaning

Commercial cleaning products are a con: you only need a few household items to achieve the same results without the use of caustic chemicals. 

Zero waste cleaning essentials are pretty basic; they are mostly based around distilled white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, geranium, cedarwood and eucalyptus make great-smelling additions. Zero Waste Nerd recommends a 1-1 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar as an all-purpose household cleaner, with added lemon peel or essential oils for fragrance.

The following zero waste cleaning tools will also help you to stop buying disposable sponges, dusters, paper towels and other throw-away products:

  • Scrubber – metal or homemade
  • Feather duster 
  • Old toothbrush (for hard to reach places)
  • Microfibre cloths 
  • Natural boar bristle broom
  • Cleaning rags made from old clothing
  • Reusable garment bags

Reusing and recycling textiles

Fast fashion is a serious problem. It focuses on speed and low costs in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles, at huge cost to the environment and workers’ rights. When polyester garments are washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans.

Slow fashion is about focusing on simple style, higher quality items, and ethical manufacturing.

Reusing and recycling textiles isn't always easy to do, but it has merit for those trying to adopt a less wasteful lifestyle. Buying fewer items of higher quality will save you money in the long run, while shopping second-hand saves good clothing from landfill and reduces the overall demand for clothing production.

Find recycling locations for textiles at Recycle Now.

How to make an ecobrick

An ecobrick is “a reusable building block created by packing clean and dry used plastic into a plastic bottle to a set density”. Ecobricks enable us to take personal responsibility for our plastic. Here’s how you make one:

  • Get your plastic ready – ensure it is clean and dry 
  • Choose a plastic bottle that you can get hold of easily and stick to it
  • Find a suitable ‘packing stick’ to pack down your plastic as you go
  • Do not pack glass, metal or biodegradables into your ecobrick
  • Pack the bottle tight and mix plastics as you go
  • Advised weights are ~500g per 1500ml or ~200g per 600ml
  • Log your ecobrick at gobrik.com
  • Find a local drop-off point

Your eco survival kit

Ready to convert to a more sustainable lifestyle? Here are the top 12 items we think are worth including in your zero waste survival kit:

  • Glass jars and reusable containers
  • Reusable takeaway coffee cup
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Muslin produce bags 
  • Wooden scrubbing brush
  • Cloth napkins
  • Lunchbox and portable eating utensils
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Wax wraps
  • Canvas bags
  • Reusable straw
  • Menstrual cup or 100% organic alternatives like Grace & Green, which are compostable

Everyone’s zero waste journey is different, so try not to compare yourself to other people and take it one step at a time. Share your ideas and experiences with us in the comments!

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About the author

Jenna Thompson

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