Waste is a real problem.
It contributes to climate change, pollutes our oceans and clears massive amounts of land and vegetation for landfill, destroying habitats and ecosystems in the process. To protect the future of our planet, we need to drastically reduce our waste. I'm here to tell you how with 8 top tips.
1/ Say no to single use and yes to reusables
Out of all the plastic produced globally, a staggering 40% is packaging , something that we use just once and then throw away.
It’s all too common - you’re out during the day and get thirsty so you buy a plastic water bottle. The drink lasts all of five gulps before you’re done with it and the empty bottle is thrown into a bin.
It doesn’t seem like much, it’s just one bottle right? But around the world a million other people have done the same thing in the last minute .
One of the simplest ways to reduce your waste is to refuse these single-use items and invest in your own personal reusables instead.
Inside ANY zero-waster’s home you are guaranteed to find a keep cup, a lifetime drink bottle, a metal straw and an abundance of containers. These are great staples to add to your waste-free arsenal and can be purchased from most bulk-food stores or online eco-stores.
Don’t be shy to bring out your reusables in public either. Most cafes and restaurants are more than happy to accommodate a request against single-use. It’s just about asking beforehand - “does your cafe allow KeepCups?” “can I please have a glass of juice but without the plastic straw?”.
2/ Change the way you shop
Unfortunately plastic is involved in almost all our purchases. This is especially true in supermarkets.
Anytime we enter a grocery store, we are confronted with the stuff. It can almost feel inescapable – how is it possible to buy food without using plastic?
I’m pleased to tell you that you can exit a supermarket without using any or much plastic and it doesn’t have to be that difficult.
The first tip is to bring your own reusable bags. If you have some canvas ones lying around at home, they’ll do the trick. Otherwise most supermarkets have them on sale for a couple of dollars.
You might also want to look at buying a couple of mesh produce bags to use in lieu of those pesky plastic ones, or just keep your fruit and veg loose.
Now a good rule of thumb I like to follow is ‘stick to the outer edges of the supermarket’. By doing this, you avoid all the heavily processed plastic items in the middle!
And if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, visit your local bulk food store. Just hold onto all your old jars and the next time you’re in the area, pop in for a visit. Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce your plastic waste and make your pantry Pinterest worthy at the same time. Stock up on anything and everything here - rice, cereals, spices, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, olive oil, liquid shampoo and conditioner, hand wash…
3/ Swap out items in your home for eco alternatives
Once you’ve addressed the waste in your pantry, it’s time to focus outwards and swap out existing products in your home for eco alternatives.
Now before you go running to the kitchen to replace your plastic dish brush with a wooden one, I’m not asking you to throw anything away.
Though these items may not be the most sustainable, they’re already in the system. Use them till the end of their life and once they can no longer be used (and they’ve been properly recycled or repurposed), swap them out for an eco alternative. You’d be surprised to learn just how many exist!
My personal favourites are my bamboo toothbrush and little glass container of dental floss - I couldn’t imagine ever going back to their plastic counterparts.
4/ Get composting
Now it’s all well and good to reduce your plastic consumption (it’s incredible actually!) but you might be surprised to learn that the majority of waste (44%) actually comes from food .
When food gets put into the rubbish bin, its ends up in landfill. The conditions of a landfill site are very acidic so the food, which is naturally a biodegradable material, is unable to break down properly and produces large quantities of harmful methane gas instead.
If only there was a better use for this waste… Oh wait, there is! Compost.
Composting is a great way to convert your food scraps into nutrient rich material and avoid adding excess methane into the atmosphere.
You’ll have to do a bit of research here to find out what can go into your compost pile and it might take a bit of practice to get the balance of brown and green materials right (I certainly haven’t mastered it yet) but the reward is worth it.
Just set up a countertop compost bin for your daily food waste and whenever the small bin is full, transfer it to your outdoor compost pile. Watch as the contents of your regular rubbish bin go right down!
And if you don’t have green thumbs, fear not. Some local governments offer free curbside compost collection. Just empty your food waste into a green bin outside to be collected and transported to a commercial composting centre.
5/ Repair and repurpose existing items
So now we’ve looked at how to deal with bringing less waste into our lives. But what about the items that we already have, the ones that are nearing the end of their lifespan? What do we do with the clothes that get ripped or the furniture that breaks?
Instead of throwing items away when they show signs of wear and tear we can take the time to repair or repurpose them, extending their lifespan. For example if I get a hole in my sock I’ll stitch it up to make it last that little bit longer.
You can get far more creative than this though. There are so many great ways to upcycle and reuse objects that were otherwise destined for the trash!
6/ Rehome items you no longer use
Now if you have any items that you no longer use or you think someone else might enjoy more, consider giving them a new home.
There are a couple of options here. If you’d like a bit of money in exchange for your goods you can sell them online. Otherwise you can donate them to your local hospice or charity shop.
Just remember - don’t drop off anything you wouldn’t buy. People often leave behind their heavily damaged or dirtied items thinking that anything will get accepted for sale but that’s not the case. Op shops have certain standards to adhere to and when incoming stock doesn’t meet these standards, the store becomes responsible for disposing of these items and paying the landfill bill.
7/ Recycle any leftover material
And if it can’t be repaired, repurposed, rehomed or composted, recycle it!
Most household waste materials (such as unbroken glass, hard plastics, tin and aluminium cans, paper and cardboard) can go straight into your council-collected recycling bin.
Some materials (e.g. soft plastics or e-waste) are recycled at separate facilities so you might have to do a quick Google search to find your closest drop-off point or collection service.
It’s very important to recycle right. Make sure you know exactly what materials your recycling centre accepts and take the time to separate and clean each item before putting it into the corresponding bin. A lot of people don’t know this but if your recycling hasn’t been properly rinsed out, when it gets to the treatment facility it can’t be processed and gets sent to landfill instead.
It’s important to add here that recycling is a very energy and water intensive process, so while it’s a far better alternative to sending items directly to the bin, it shouldn’t be your first port of call when dealing with waste.
8/ Refuse anything you don’t need
It’s important to question whether we actually need something in the first place.
Whenever I go to buy something new I always ask myself – will I get a lot of use out of this? Is there a local, more sustainable alternative? Can I buy it secondhand instead?
With so many low-cost goods available, many of us continue to buy new without slowing down to think that perhaps this current way of overconsuming is not sustainable.
Every item that comes into our home should be carefully chosen and the long-term effects of it on the planet considered.
It doesn’t have to be about denying oneself of material pleasures, rather redefining and reimagining what those pleasures look like to you - what’s good for the planet is good for me.
Most importantly, always remind yourself that this is an individual journey and it will look different for everyone. Just by existing we create waste and it could be that there are certain barriers that prevent you from reducing yours, such as a lack of time or finances.
You don’t have to squeeze a year’s worth of waste into a glass jar to be ‘doing it right’. Don’t be hard on yourself if that’s not your reality. Just do what’s best for you and your circumstances.
It might not seem like a huge difference at the individual level, but if we all make an effort to reduce our waste then collectively we might have a real impact on this planet.