Practical Advice on Waste Reduction – 10 Simple Tricks
Transitioning towards a zero waste lifestyle can be easy once you’re well on the way, but actually STARTING can be hard! What do I buy? Wait, shouldn’t I not buy stuff? Where do I buy food now? What about the essential stuff like toothpaste? I don’t have a compost, do I need one? How do I even make compost? What’s a menstrual cup?... Eeek!
Meg and I of Towards Zero Waste Geelong teach both simple, introductory level zero waste skills, and more advance, integrated skills. For those who couldn't make our past workshops, here are some tricks to get you started that should be fun, simple and create new habits to help you on your way! And by the way, you’re already doing an amazing thing simply by reading this post – well done for choosing to learn how you can reduce your environmental footprint, you champion! I hope I can help you to keep up the great work. Read on...
1. Bring reusable produce bags when grocery shopping
Whether you prefer to stick to the supermarket, shop at a local bulk store, or visit a beautiful local farmers market, these are endlessly useful! Save on plastic packaging by using bought or homemade bags (if you love a lazy option, grab some old pillowcases, snaplock bags or bread bags and just wash between uses). If about half your weekly shop is fresh produce, you’re basically halving your plastic! Having a few sizes is great, and lightweight ones will mean you don’t pay much extra at supermarkets where you can’t tare off the weight of your bag.
Fill them with things like:
- dried nuts/fruit at the supermarket self-serve
- any loose fruit and veg, especially beans, spinach and mushrooms
- flours, grains and cereals at your bulk store if available
- herbs, which can be sealed in a ziplock and put straight into the fridge
2. Get a reusable coffee cup, mug or thermos and keep it where you need it!
Whether you drink coffees at your desk at work, drink tea on your walk into town or grab a café caffeine hit, you can do it 100% packaging free. Put your desired vessel where you’ll SEE it – in the car, on your desk, in your handbag. This makes it easy to remember and really accessible. A great way to cement a habit is to make a rule that you’ll say no to a drink if you don’t have your cup with you – you’ll survive I promise, and you certainly won’t forget it again! (This goes for reusable grocery bags, cutlery and straws, too!)
3. Bring a reusable water vessel everywhere
I say ‘vessel’ because it doesn’t need to be a lovely insulated bottle – old jars, cordial bottles, even soft drink bottles (kept out of the sun) hold water just fine! And better yet, they’re free and you won’t cry yourself to sleep if you lose one. Many sports stadiums don’t allow glass or metal bottles, so plastic can actually be handy at times. If you have a great drink bottle, put it in your bag/bike/car when you leave the house to avoid getting caught out, as sadly not everywhere has easily accessible drinking fountains. Bottled water is 2000 times more expensive than tap, so don’t rip yourself off by buying it!
4. Recycle your soft plastic packaging
We are all humans doing our best in a world shaped by convenience and technology – plastic sneaks into our lives no matter how hard we try. Thanks to the group RedCycle (which are located at every Victorian Coles Supermarket), you can drop off any SCRUNCHABLE soft plastic – think shopping bags, bread bags, chip packets, tofu wrappers, etc. They’re recycled into things like outdoor benches and playground equipment. If you’re not sure about something in your bin, visit their website and check. You’ll find your kerbside bin will love you for this!
5. Find out how to make the things you can’t do without
Not only is making your own toiletries and cleaners better for the planet, it can be better for your health and can save you a LOT of money. My own toothpaste recipe costs me about 1/14th of the tubes I used to buy and I love it! Have a read of my other blog posts and check out www.thethoughtfulvegan.com for recipes on deodorant, toothpaste and moisturiser. An easy DIY to start with is hand soap – refill an old pump soap bottle with tap water almost to the top. Add 2-3tsp of castile soap and 10 drops of teatree oil – you now have an antibacterial, delicious-smelling hypoallergenic hand soap for about 10c!
6. Clear out your wardrobe of things you don’t want, then set a goal to buy no new items
We all love a clean-out, but how quickly do our wardrobes fill up again?! Aussies are terribly addicted to fast-fashion and it’s costing the Earth. Choose a timeframe you like – three, six or even 12 months – and challenge yourself to buy no new clothes for this period. You may find yourself breaking this out of necessity (no one will blame you for buying new jeans when your old favourites split!) but try and stick it out. It can be a huge learning curve for some, where often your happy bank balance alone is enough for you to continue the habit! Don’t forget that op-shops and sharing with friends are always available to you.
7. Redefine food ‘scraps’ and learn how to use them
Often, we are brought up to think that certain parts of food are inedible and should cut off and discarded. This isn’t always true, so when you’re next in the kitchen, really think about what you throw away. Broccoli stalks? Delicious in stir-fry. Strawberry tops? Disappear blended in a smoothie. Onion ends? Perfect addition to a stock base or scrap fire tonic. Peeling is usually unnecessary and purely habitual (potatoes, pumpkin, cucumber, carrots and apples are never peeled in my kitchen). A great way to start is to keep all the offcuts of great stock veg, like carrot and zucchini ends, celery tops, potato skins, etc. Add them to a container you keep labeled in the freezer and, when full, boil them up with herbs and salt for a veggie stock, before composting them. Too easy!
8. Use your true food scraps to create beautiful soil, in your garden or someone else’s
Food scraps can be used in many ways, even if you have no space. Of course you can compost your own, hot or cold, and use it on your garden. You could use an indoor Bokashi system, or even dig holes and bury the scraps. Worm farms turn scraps into amazing soil conditioner. Community gardens often take household scraps for their own compost. Locals can advertise their place for you to drop your scraps off via the ShareWaste app. The list of opportunities to keep food from landfill is endless! The more we do this, the less methane builds up in our atmosphere.
9. Cook more meals yourself, especially those you take to work, and make it easy
Cooking is not everyone’s favourite pastime. If you love it, then you don’t need me to tell you how much healthier, cost-effective and delicious it is! Making your own food means you often rely less on packaged and processed food, which you can then take to work in reusable containers, jars or lunch boxes. If cooking isn’t your thing, make it as SIMPLE as possible. Pick a carbohydrate, a protein and lots of in-season vegetables (eg. brown rice, green lentils, cherry tomatoes, basil and zucchini). Add a sauce, dressing or other seasoning and you’ve got five easy salads or stir-frys for lunches (depending on what you do with them). That’s five meals with little to no packaging, prepped in the time to cook one meal, and five meat-free dishes for the week (which is extra brownie points for your carbon footprint!). Add some 10-minute cacao balls done in the food processor and fresh fruit for snacks, and your week is set.
10. Be smart with your recycling and learn what goes where
We all still have items left over or that sneak into our lives, a lot of which can be recycled. Cardboard and paper are obvious, though I love to share that paper can be used as a carbon additive for your compost instead! Hard plastics are usually numbered by type of polymer – check on your local council website what can go into your yellow lid bin. Aluminium and glass (not broken) can go in. Soft plastics stay OUT (but now we know they can go to RedCycle) while your weird and wonderful things like old shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, contact lens containers and many other things can be dropped off to a TerraCycle drop point (again, check their website to find your closest one!). Clothing and shoes stay OUT of your kerbside, as do nappies, and DON’T bag up your recycling in a plastic bag as this ruins all your hard work. Recycling uses immense amounts of energy, is often processed offshore and has a finite lifecycle, so if you can reduce your yellow lid bin contents, do! For less obvious items, check your local council website.
Pick one, some or all of these to have a go at. See what works for you, then start adding to your repertoire of tricks over time. Good luck!
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