Making huge life changes can be incredibly overwhelming. One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘where did you start?’ once you become aware of anything that you feel needs changing in your life, you’re suddenly aware of everything you do.
Simplistically it’s about breaking habits and being mindful – once you have these two factors in the (re-usable) bag, the rest sort of flows on.
But for those of you who have absolutely zero idea how to begin your zero waste journey – here are 10 basic tips! They are in no order other than what my mind pulled out first, so pick a few, turn them into habits, then move onto another few.
- Start saying NO to single-use plastic
If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re already aware of the drastic effects single use plastic has on our planet. The landfill, the pollution, the effect on our beautiful marine life – it’s saddening and shocking. But I also know you’re reading this because you want to become part of the solution!
Single use plastic items you should also start saying no to:
- Straws and plastic cutlery – in fact, some countries such as France have gone so far as to BAN these all together – which is great! But if you’re living in a country where this isn’t yet a thing, put a personal ban on them. All it takes is a simple request when ordering food or drinks: ‘No straw/cutlery, please!’
I bring my own cutlery, and as for straws? I don’t need one, but for those who do, there are plenty of re-usable options available that you can stash in your bag
- Plastic drink bottles – need I say more? Invest in a good quality re-usable drink bottle. Personally I find it far more encouraging to drink from a super rad looking drink bottle instead of some crappy single use plastic bottle.
Reusable coffee mugs also make a massive difference to your landfill contribution! Plus they look fancy as hell
Every smoothie Instagrammer’s best friend – and much more environmentally friendly than their plastic counterparts
- Plastic bags – goes without saying, and more on that below!
- Individually wrapped food items – for some it serves a purpose, but for most of us there are plenty of options that mean we can forgo the snack food that comes in a single packet – start searching for alternatives wrapped in paper, or consider making them yourself! Or possibly consider if it’s something you need at all? Nature provides us with plenty of zero waste snacks – nuts and bananas for one!
Mother Nature provides us with the PERFECT convenience food – pre packaged!
- Heavily packaged household goods – razors, batteries, phone cases, air fresheners, toothbrushes, electrical goods, clothing, homewares. You name it, it probably comes wrapped in plastic! Search for alternatives with minimal packaging or compostable packaging (I have a list of all the beauty products I use here) and search for second-hand alternatives for others – do you REALLY need that brand new heavily packaged mug, or will a second hand version suffice?
- Takeaway containers – If you’re like me, you rarely throw them out and have a huuuuuuge stash at home that you re-purpose for home-made lunches. Well now is the time to start re-purposing them on a larger scale! If you’re a creature of habit and frequent the same lunch spots during the week, start taking those containers back! There is NOTHING in our Food Legislation that states you are not allowed to do this. If you’re a regular it’s more than likely you have a decent rapport with your servers. So BYO and say NO to more containers!What happens when you eventually run out of containers? You could also be ultra fancy and purchase a sturdier one for the future – keep it in mind!
Umm excuse me but as if this isn’t ten times cooler than a plastic takeaway container too. Available from Flora and Fauna here
- Keep a stash of bags on you at all times
By far the most obvious, and in my opinion the easiest, way you can make a drastic impact instantly! Most of us have plastic bags already lying around the house from previous shopping trips, so if you have yet to purchase any re-usable bags – re-use the plastic bags! I always keep a stash of bags in the bag I take everywhere with me. This means even if I have an impulse shopping trip, I’m always prepared.
If you’re like me and enjoy looking fancy, head to a second-hand store and stock up on some cute calico bags with patterns – or start a collection from the stores you already purchase from.
This isn’t me – but it could be YOU
- Purchase a ‘take-away kit’ or make your own
This is another one of those ‘be prepared’ scenarios that will ensure you avoid having to use single use cutlery and packaging. I have a small kit that I keep in my bag and carry with me at all times which has:
- A cutlery/chopstick set (because dumplings are life)
- A container for takeaway foods
- A small container for dressings and sauces
- Re-usable napkin
There are also a multitude of companies and individual humans making some really cute lunch kits. What’s important is to buy something that suits your needs!
These incredibly cute Travel Kits come from Plastic Free Gypsy
- Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do
Let’s face it, we rely so much on packaged items for convenience and ease of use. As a fully able bodied person with a steady income and access to a lot of resources there are lots of things I’m able to do. I acknowledge that this is not everybody’s situation. But don’t be dissuaded – focus on the small changes you know you can make and do them! It’s not about feeling guilty for things out of your control – it’s about doing everything you feel comfortable with and making a difference (even if it’s a small one)!
Something as simple as cutting out the plastic bags when you go food shopping makes a world of difference!
- Think about what you CAN do with what you already have.
Have a few bags already lying around? USE THEM
Leftover takeaway containers from lunch? USE THEM
About to finish a shampoo bottle? REFILL IT!
Old spice jars or jam jars? See Step 7!
Be creative about what you have already accumulated – you’d be surprised at what you’ve already got to get the ball rolling. Don’t get caught up about buying all the fancy new produce bags, bamboo straws and mason jars all at once – keep a list of what you think you may need in the future and purchase as you can. It’s about being minimalistic, practical and sustainable – not about feeling pressured to buy an entire kitchen of products to replace your plastic containers!
“Oh my gosh that’s so cute where did you buy it?”
“Oh just something I had lying around…”
- Pre-prepare or pre-cook food items and keep frozen
This is a life saver for me because I do have a tendency to become rather disorganised when I get busy and food is always the lowest on my to do list. I pre-soak most of my legumes and beans – including soy beans for home-made tofu and soy milk – to keep on hand in the freezer. Keep them in quantities you use on a regular basis (400g portions are always handy because that’s roughly the equivalent of what’s in a tin) and simply run under water to quickly defrost and add to salads, soups, sauces, lasagnes – whatever your heart desires! This cuts down on preparation for meals massively, especially if you soak and pre-cook in large batches.
Rice cookers are the perfect vessel for easy pre-cooked legumes
- Start collecting old jars so you don’t have to purchase new ones
Peanut butter, jam jars, gherkin jars, spice jars – we all have them. One of the ways you can avoid having to spend money is simply re-using these items once you run out. In the case of spice jars, you already have conveniently labelled jars at your expense (My ‘mixed herb’ jar from Woolies has been refilled about 4 times now)
Plus it looks badass in Instagram photos
- Replace as you go
Not everything you use will run out at once. If you know for example you’re going to run out of toothpaste in a week, think about replacing that. Or if you start seeing your supplies of flour, oils and legumes reduce, plan a shopping list! I didn’t buy everything at once – I replaced as I ran out. plastic containers, tooth-paste etc.
This ol’ thing was the first purchase in my new house – for obvious reasons
- Second Hand ALL THE THINGS
Clothing, kitchenware, shoes, white-goods, phones. All of these items can either be repaired or bought second hand! We have become a society obsessed with brand new shiny shiny everything when reality is there is nothing wrong with what we already have. I’m continually flabbergasted at the amount of perfectly good items I see being thrown out during council clean up – but I am of course thankful because it means I can save money (I scored a free toaster and a couch the other day!)
‘I wear your Grandad’s Clothes – I look incredible…’
- It’s about intention, not perfection. Be mindful and POSITIVE!
If you’re like me once you get an idea in your head unless it’s perfect you stress and obsess over it. Maybe? If not, then don’t worry! But also don’t worry about trying to be perfect, or do everything at once. Just remember even ONE less plastic bag or plastic product does so much good for our earth – so even if you’re doing small things you are making a difference! This is something that should be embraced in a positive manner. I love everything about the zero-waste lifestyle, and it has brought so much joy to my life because I can literally SEE the difference I’m making when I look at my waste shrink as every month goes by.
Learn to LOVE what you do and don’t be afraid to give yourself some credit! It takes hard work, patience, habit breaking and good practises but it’s 100% worth it!