What is Zero Waste?
Zero waste sounds intimidating but, it’s just about making conscious decisions about what you buy or refuse to buy with the goal of not throwing anything away to a landfill or incinerator.
What you do buy can then be reused, repurposed, composted, or recycled.
The Zero Waste Movement can be traced back to the 1990s but has only recently taken hold as something beyond stereotypical, hippy, tree-hugging zealots.
Zero waste is about living in a way that is sustainable for the planet’s resources.
For us beginners, it’s not about being perfect straight out the gate. We won’t be the “perfect” people only producing a jar of waste a year.
At least not yet.
Cutting out plastic and waste can be difficult when there are no other alternatives on the shelves, and you don’t know where to go.
But that’s why you’re here. You found me, and I’m here to help you get to zero waste as I figure it out, too.
I’ll do the work, so you don’t have to.
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What do I do first?
First, don’t go through your house and start throwing away anything that’s plastic. You will be wasting your money and are just creating waste. We don’t want that, remember?
Instead, look at items that are running low and need replacing soon. Can you replace the item with something not in a plastic container?
And that’s where you start.
Don’t try to do it all at once, you’ll go crazy, curse that it’s too expensive to be zero waste and give up.
Simple First Switches
• Cleaning wipes and kitchen roll.
I used to love using wipes. They were so easy. And so wasteful.
I decided a while back to make my own cleaners because I wanted something safer for when Olivia crawled around, licked the mirrors, and ate off the floor.
But I was still using kitchen roll and wipes for my floors, counters, toilets, windows, and my kids’ messes. I was still creating a lot of waste.
I felt very proud when I made the switch to cloths. Microfiber cloths.
Ugh! I didn’t know. I figured I was doing a good thing not wasting anymore while cleaning.
If I knew microfiber really meant microplastic and is the leading cause for plastic in our water, I would have looked for cotton.
(Synthetic fabrics lose fibres in the washing machine putting tiny microplastics in our water supply that are too small to be filtered out).
But being zero waste means I will still use them till their death.
Until then I grabbed myself a Guppyfriend to help keep the microplastics out of our water system.
You see? Not perfect.
I’m still learning, but hopefully you haven’t made that mistake yet and can make a better choice.
• My family’s toothbrushes
I found a fabulous 4 pack on Amazon. They came in cardboard packaging and had really helpful customer service to answer my question about the bristles.
Yes, they are nylon a synthetic fabric, but the only alternative is boar’s hair, which doesn’t clean teeth as well anyway.
So, when your toothbrush reaches the end of it’s lifespan, you can either use it for cleaning (I have three that I use for different things) or remove the bristles and compost it.
Both lead to almost no waste.
This was a change I even got Lee on board with as well. He really likes his new toothbrush so this is a replacement that will stick!
Bamboo toothbrushes are easy to find. I’ve seen them at Boots and they were even in cardboard packaging.
• Stainless steel bottles and insulated cups.
I had a cheap stainless-steel bottle and the bottom warped the first time I dropped it. It no longer stands up. I still have it, but it’s not my go to bottle now.
Instead I splurged and bought a Kleen Kanteen which I have dropped several times and though it has a dent, it still stands. I love it so much I bought my daughters each one and love that the caps are interchangeable on all of their bottles.
I say this because Penny had a sippy cup topped bottle, and all I would have needed to do is get her a sports cap so she could have continue using it.
But it was knicked.
They are that good.
Kleen Kanteen has replacement seals available so there is no excuse not to use them forever. No leaching plastic either.
And no plastic packaging.
I don’t drink coffee and don’t normally go out for take away tea, but Lee does. And he swears by Costa’s insulated cup. (Be sure to grab this one in store as the price online is crazy expensive.)
He’s bought a couple from Amazon and they stained easily and didn’t retain the heat as much as he would like.
But the Costa one? He won’t buy any other (if he ever needs another). An added bonus is you get a 25p discount on your drinks when you use your cup in store.
I can vouch for him on this. He left his tea on the counter one day on his way to work and said I should just have it.
Well by the time I could get to it, it had been on the counter for over two hours. Still piping hot.
I think I just found the answer to enjoying a hot drink when you have kids.
You’re welcome mums everywhere.
• Bars of soap
I switched my bodywash for some lovely handmade soap I found at a National Trust shop. I love the scent, it’s gentle on my skin and it had absolutely no packaging.
I was given a paper bag at the till but when I need another, I will just bring a container.
When I ran out of handsoap, I replaced them with Dove handsoap I had on hand from when my parents visited.
They come in a cardboard box, so no plastic there (unless you buy a multi pack) and there’s no waste when it’s “run out.”
Hubby is not on board with this one yet. He still insists on using shower cream. I just need to keep looking to find a soap he too can be happy with, or figure out how make some shower cream for him.
It’s a Good Start
I know it may not seem like a lot, but I have made a start. I’ve been able to eliminate 3 plastic bottles from entering my home.
I’ve eliminated my family’s need to purchase bottles of water even if I must be the one responsible for filling and remembering to bring them.
I also have eliminated countless rolls of kitchen roll reducing the plastic and saving some trees as well.
I’m already saving money as well. A bar of soap (depending on the type you buy) can cost anywhere from £1-5. Shower cream 90p.
This doesn’t look like money saving but I made a bar of soap last 4 months at £2.50 and the hubby used 10 bottles of shower cream at 90p each, which is £9 for the same time frame.
And I won’t be stopping there. I’m starting to get a rush finding plastic free alternatives and it’s even easier now that they are becoming more readily available.
If everyone made the same changes, think of the plastic we’d eliminate and the resources we would save.
Other Easy Swaps to Make
Start with things you buy regularly in your weekly shop.
This is much easier if you have a local farm shop but even at larger stores buying unwrapped produce when and where it’s available sends a message with your money to manufacturers that you will not tolerate this wasteful, single-use plastic anymore.
I have found (in my local shops) Tesco is the winner for the most unwrapped produce.
I was able to get almost all my produce, aside from lettuce, with no packaging!
Almost everything in my Asda is still in plastic. Asda is the worst when it comes to my local shop choices.
Morrisons and Aldi are split offering some plastic free alternatives, but not enough.
Avoid the paper bags if they are offered as well. You’re still wasting trees.
Bring a reusable produce bag. These in particular are great because they are cotton and can be washed easily. The weight of the bag is printed on the label. And when they are not being used for vegetables, they work as laundry bags or packing organisers.
Old nylons would work in a pinch.
Worst case let them be loose and wash your produce before eating (which I know you would do anyway).
• BYOC (Bring Your Own Container)
Some stores are allowing customers to bring their own containers for the deli section. Try it. Worst they can do is say no.
I have not done this yet as I don’t make a lot of deli purchases, but I’m going to give it a shot the next time hubby and I need lunch meat for a picnic.
Keep some containers with you and be willing to be a bit cheeky using your own for restaurant leftovers or take-away.
I just came across a chippy that gives you a discount for bringing your own container. Bummer it’s not closer to home but encouraging to see places taking these steps.
• Refuse the Straws
Declining a straw with your drink and, don’t forget, your children’s drinks is a quick, easy, eco-friendly choice.
Plastic straws are quickly being banned worldwide, but now we have replacement paper straws. Do you seriously need a straw with your drink? Do you use one at home? I don’t.
When you have littles like Olivia and Penny, straws just lead to disaster at restaurants. It’s better to just bring their favourite sippy cup and pour their drink into it.
The only place a straw seems useful and necessary is milkshakes and smoothies. In this case I would recommend these silicone straws that you can carry with you.
I’m not a fan of stainless steel ones as I feel like they are accidents waiting to happen. And when you have kids or an adult like me that tends to bite on straws, stainless steel will not work.
• Pack Your Lunch in Reusable Containers
Sandwiches, wraps, and other on the go lunches that are often wrapped in cling film can simply be packed in a reusable box.
I will admit this was a tough one for us at first. Lee is in charge of making our picnic lunches for family outings but used to wrap the sandwiches in cling film.
Luckily, it didn’t take him long to discover that a plastic container we already had can hold all four sandwiches perfectly.
This is another example of using what you already have instead of buying an eco-friendly alternative.
If you don’t have containers or want something more compact and lighter, then beeswax wraps are a great alternative.
The wraps last at least a year and can either be rewaxed or composted so no waste.
Zero Waste Not Wasteful
Zero waste is not about buying everything made from bamboo and throwing everything else away.
When items wear out, yes, find an eco-friendly alternative if you still need that item, but this is not time for a shopping spree.
Think about a more minimalist approach.
If you’ve never needed the product to this point, don’t buy it now just because it’s eco-friendly.
That only perpetuates the consumer mindset that got the planet into this mess in the first place.
You CAN Make a Difference
Collectively, our choices will get back to manufacturers and the ones that are first to jump on packaging their products in materials other than plastic, are the ones to earn loyalty first from consumers like you and me that are willing to make a change.
Other companies will then follow suit, thus making responsible choices easier for everyone.
Waitrose is piloting a bring your own container bulk section.
Sainsburys is selling reusable fruit and veg bags for 30p and some of their loose produce is cheaper than the packaged.
Tesco sells water in cans.
The stores are listening.
Continue making our voices heard with what we spend (or don’t spend) our money on.
Little changes, conscious decisions are what is going to change the world.
We need everyone to make choices for good, and realise that, no, not every choice will be perfect. But if everyone does a little bit, then a little bit more, bigger changes will happen.
We can’t rely on just a handful of people being perfect.
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