Zero-waste living: a phrase you’ve probably heard but know little about. It’s a recent lifestyle phenomenon where the goal is to reduce how much waste you send to landfill. This is done by switching out single-use plastics and other waste-producing items for more sustainable alternatives. For example, opting for glass or cardboard packaging, BYO reusable coffee cups and shopping bags. Recycling and compost are incredibly important to the process, as is the ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra.
When I first learnt about living a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle, I assumed it an unattainable and idealistic goal. After watching a documentary on a British couple who managed the lifestyle for an entire year, I’d instantly written it off as something that only ‘crazy environmentalists’ do. It was for people with money, time, and no Echo360 to catch up on. The thought of making my own skincare products, buying fruit and veg from farmers markets and buying groceries from speciality stores, all to avoid plastic packaging and reduce my waste, seemed like something from a dream. …. Until recently.
I was gifted the book A Zero Waste Life in Thirty Days, written by Anita Vandyke. I casually flipped through it, intrigued by how simple it all appeared. Within a week, I was on a mission, determined to reduce my waste. I probably freaked out a lot of my friends. I’m going to store everything in old glass bottles! I’m not going to buy takeaway unless I can recycle the packaging! I refuse to buy new skincare products! I won’t lie, my initial vigour wore off. I quickly realised how hard it was to go from zero to hero (or just to zero, really). I hadn’t understood that this was the type of lifestyle change that took time and a bit of patience. Well, more than a bit. Patience is a key lesson from that book that I hadn’t exactly heeded until later on.
Of course, living zero-waste is entirely achievable. You just need to be prepared, organised and determined. Having time helps, but it’s more about prioritizing. I won’t claim to be zero-waste now. I still buy strawberries in plastic boxes, drink frozen Coke from McDonalds, and I sometimes forget to ask for ‘no straw please’. However, I find that the most important part of this journey, and the key to take away, is that I am more aware and conscious in my decisions than I have ever been before. I actively engage with and consider the purchases I make, which is, in my opinion, a huge and important starting step.
If you, like me, have been curious about becoming a zero-waster, a reduced-waster, or just a slightly-less-waster, I have included some other important and easy steps below that make that journey a little bit easier:
- First, keeping a zero-waste kit on you. For me, this includes a reusable coffee cup and bottle, a metal straw, a reusable shopping bag, and maybe a reusable container, for when you don’t finish your food at a cafe, but don’t want to throw it out either. You can take it home to eat later, or compost! (The Canberra Environment centre on campus has a communal compost bin! Just sign up online.)
- Before buying anything new (eg. clothes, cutlery, makeup), think through these steps first: Can I borrow it? > Can I buy it second-hand? > Can I buy it more ethically? Try to be creative!
- Bamboo toothbrushes, bar soap and eco-glitter are all cool, easy switches that are fun to shop around for!
- We’ve all heard ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, but zero-waste means ‘refusing’ first. If the packaging is plastic, just don’t buy it. Of course, this isn’t always possible or easy, but it’s good to keep in mind!
By focusing on just one area where you can reduce, refuse or make a switch is a great starting point. Whether that’s making the commitment to never purchase coffee in a disposable cup again, taking your grocery bags with you, or only purchasing pasta from bulk food stores, every action counts. Simply by being aware, and making informed and conscious choices, engaging in a zero-waste lifestyle can be achieved.