I learned to celebrate the wins and not punish ourselves if we produce household trash. I learned to keep a close eye on waste collection services and know where my trash is going. I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish in the street, and the power of community to work on bigger clean up projects.
Celebrate the wins
Take a moment and enjoy the feeling of not needing to take the bins out. Thank everybody in your home for their efforts. It’s not about perfection, it’s about incremental improvements and chances are you’re doing great.
For fear of being disappointed, I tried not to pay close attention to the landfill we generated. At 7 months, I finally estimated our rate of waste creation. I worked out that we would fill one landfill bin every 8 months, and one recycling bin every 5 weeks. Previously, it would take 2 weeks to fill both bins. Our household has 3 people and one dog. One of us is slightly more obsessed with zero waste than the others… Guess who!? If we were to stop making incremental improvements, this is the rate we’d be at. I think that’s pretty great! I thought it would take much longer to get to this stage. Plus, a lot of the waste we were still creating was from products we bought before my zero waste rampage. I love not needing to take the bins out…
Be aware of waste collection
Observe waste collection services and be aware of what happens to waste after it leaves the home. At work, plastic bin liners are a clue that recycling might not be sent to the right bin. Ask questions. Seek answers.
We recently found out that our waste collection service has been cutting corners by dumping recycling into their landfill trucks. It’s not all the time, but it’s still really messed up. We’ve put pressure on body corporate who are in the process of rectifying everything. The service provider will now lose their very big contract (over 200 dwellings… that’s a lot of wasted recycling!). Until now, I’d never thought to check how our bins are being collected. I put my trust in the fact that recycling goes to a recycling plant. Every area is a little bit different, so we’ve learnt our lesson to be aware of what happens to our waste after it leaves our home. Another positive from this is that we are even more committed to reducing our recycling waste.
Pick it up
When the time is right for you, try to pick up 3 items of rubbish. This small and mighty habit can prevent those items being washed down the gutter and into a waterway.
I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish. Honestly, when I do it I feel a bit weird. I don’t want to appear forthright, pious or alienating to passers by. So, I try to be discreet when I do it. Apart from the looks I get (which are completely in my own head), I also feel a little overwhelmed by the task of picking up rubbish. There’s so much of it and so much being created at a business level. To encourage incremental habit-building, I’m going to just pick up 3 items max (thank to Take 3 for the inspiration).
Organise a trash party
If there’s an area that really gets you down, volunteer to clean it up. Tell others about it and invite them to join. One hour of cleaning between a small group of people can result in massive improvements on the ecosystem and community.
At the start of Plastic Free July, I set the goal of cleaning up a small part of the Merri Creek for one hour every Sunday of the month. If anyone else came along, it was a bonus – and what a bonus it was! With the help of friends, we filled 7 landfill bins (120L each). This is a big achievement for me, but it’s just another day for the legends at Friends of Merri Creek who have been tirelessly cleaning the creek for a long time now.
I have so much respect for people who do this kind of thing regularly, even at a small scale. It’s hard work! One hour of picking up rubbish made my back sore. The walk to the car carrying loads of rubbish made my arms dead (Exercise? What’s that!?). We found some seriously gross items in the creek including a crack pipe and loads of syringes. In one instance, I travelled interstate to get there on time and when I finally arrived, it rained heavily – yet we still managed to stick to the weekly goal. I sound like I’m complaining but I have truly loved every minute of it. This whole experience has created new memories from old junk.
How to slay the trash monster without losing your soul
You’re doing your best. Don’t beat yourself up if you produce household waste. Be aware of what happens to this waste after it leaves the home or office. Pick up 3 items of rubbish in the street. Consider organising a clean up project. Be realistic and take it at your own pace. Little efforts go a long way.
Next: Reduce landfill with a new beauty regime, shopping habits and kitchen planning.
I learned what to take on a daily basis and how to pack light for longer trips away. I formed a habit of taking snacks, a handkerchief, and a bottle while on the go. I realised that zero waste is about minimalism and simplicity.
Day to day
A handbag audit could be helpful at this stage. Think about all the items you use on a daily basis and add a handkerchief and small shopping bag to the set.
Essentially, all I need is my wallet, phone, keys and a handkerchief. Everything else depends on where I’m going and whether a bag is necessary. Here’s the full extent of what I take:
- Bailey Nelson glasses for seeing way off into the future
- Small cheesecloth bag that fits in my pocket
- My favourite handkerchief: To use as a scarf, to hold bakery treats, napkin, tissue …only ever in that order Snotzilla always comes last
- Lush lipstick (only if I want to feel fancy)
- Mr Simple wallet: Moving to a “men’s wallet” was the first step to not needing a handbag at all – I just throw coins in my pocket now
- Multi-purpose balm in a Lush sample container: For lips, hair, nails, moisturiser and general spruce up
- Cough lollies: If I have singing practice. I buy these in glass jars to avoid individually wrapped plastic packaging.
- T2 water bottle: Usually just for singing or long walks. This doubles as a thermos and keeps tea nice and warm for hours.
Snacks, handkerchief & bottle
If travelling for an extended period of time, take snacks to avoid impulse purchases, a drink bottle that can be refilled, and a handkerchief for take away sandwiches, baked goods, etc. If you’re more of a sushi fan, a small container is helpful too.
I now have an airport survival kit: Snacks, handkerchief, and water bottle. These three items ensure a package-free trip from Melbourne to Katoomba. That’s a 1.5hr flight plus 2.5hr train ride with loads of waiting time in between. The salty macadamias and chocolate covered almonds prevented me from buying McDonalds Chicken McNuggets at the airport and Pringles on the plane. The water bottle prevented me from guzzling down lemonade and then throwing away the vessel. The handkerchief was used to wrap a toasted cheese and tomato croissant to take away. I also bought an apple for a zero waste snack.
While in transition, take the labels off certain products as a reminder to keep the container and bulk buy / DIY once it runs out.
I’m getting the hang of zero waste travel and learning how to pack light. This is what’s in my toiletries bag for a 3 day trip. This works pretty well for me. We went to New York for 8 days and I took a similar set of items, and it was perfect. If we were camping, we would have tea tree oil and Castile soap – and the blush would be the first thing to go.
- Fine brush
- Eyebrow pencil
- Blush powder: I’m working my way through the last of my make up. This powder can easily be made with beetroot powder and cornstarch.
- Home made toothpowder
- Rose hip oil or Argan Oil
- Multi-purpose balm in a tiny jam jar: For hair, lips, nails, feet, etc
- Bamboo toothbrush: I recommend Uppercut Delux toothbrush
- Reusable make up wipes: Made from my old bath robe
- Home made face powder in a Lush tin
- Large makeup brush
Pack a capsule wardrobe
Get comfortable wearing pants, jumpers, and jackets a couple of times before washing. Packing light takes practice so it helps to take more holidays (you know it!). This is also great practice for a longer term capsule wardrobe.
All the clothes, accessories and shoes I brought for 4 days away: Tracksuit pants, 2 x Jeans, 4 x undies, 2 x Socks, 1 x Bra, Scarf, Beanie, Leather jacket, Hoodie, Glasses, Sunnies, Cardigan, 4 x T-shirts, Gloves and Boots.
How to be zero waste without lugging your life around
Always remember to bring a handkerchief, a drinking vessel and a shopping bag. Use travel as a test for minimising everyday toiletries & wardrobe. Take note of items that you use on the go. Challenge yourself to pack lighter & smarter.
For zero waste groceries, I have learned to shop local, seasonal produce. Forming simple – but sometimes easily forgotten – habits of bringing shopping bags and jars so I could buy package-free where possible. I look out for glass and paper packaging to avoid wasteful plastics. I took my time and now embrace the idea of an empty fridge.
Shop local, seasonal produce
Local, seasonal produce can be bought from farmers markets, through delivery services, or from independent grocers. If none of these options are available, then seasonal produce can be bought from large supermarket chains – you just need to keep track of what’s in season.
Every fortnight, we order a $30 box of fruit and veggies from Ceres Fair Food. At first, it was too much of a good thing – what does one do with four broccolis between three people? After giving some produce to neighbours, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. Pinterest made it quick to look up options. I made broccoli soup, broccoli pesto, broccoli stir fry, broccoli gratin, broccoli pasta… we were not short of ideas. It became a satisfying challenge to cook all of the food delivered to us. If we can’t get through it all, I chop it up and put it in the freezer.
Shopping bags & glass jars
A large shopping bag can hold multiple bags and jars. This helps reduce plastic bags and containers. These items can be kept in the car or near the front door to help kickstart the habit. We keep our jars in a little carrier to avoid spills.
For weekly top ups, I take a small and large shopping bag, 2 jars and a handkerchief. The jars carry wet bulk like liquid soap, peanut butter and vinegar. The handkerchief holds baked goods and the bags hold everything else. For a bigger shop, we have four large canvas bags that we take to the supermarket. Fewer bags make it easier for the cashier to fill them. These require a trolley and a car to take home.
Finding a store requires a bit of research, but there’s plenty of online directories to get started. Most have only dry bulk (flour, nuts, grains, chocolates, etc) and some have expanded into wet bulk (oil, liquid soap, honey, peanut butter, kombucha, etc). To perpetuate a new zero waste habit, we favour places that are friendly, inclusive, and enjoyable to shop at.
The Source was my entry point into package-free shopping, back when I didn’t know what zero waste was. I used to walk there on my lunch break and get myself a little treat, like vegetable crisps or chocolate covered blueberries. Their beautifully merchandised store makes it easy to understand a totally new way of shopping.
Let’s face it: Getting started is daunting! I’ve had my fair share of patronising, pious staff and overwhelming, poorly merchandised stores. Most of these stores felt like “organised chaos” with a high barrier of entry. It made me feel lost and unmotivated. Fortunately, package-free stores are an expanding part of the retail sector which means improved customer service and merchandising.
Some stores are hesitant to sell items package free. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage to ask questions and suggest change.
I find that the main reasons for stores to hesitate with BYO packaging are:
- OHS – If they’ve been burned before, they’re not going to budge. Leave it be. They have a business to protect.
- Efficiency – If the store is busy, any to change their workflow tends to add stress and delays. Be nice. Maybe come back later.
- Lack of understanding – Most people understand if I say “I’m trying to go plastic free” but they won’t understand if I say “I’m zero waste”. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage. We’re all learning together.
- Production lines – A large scale company (like a supermarket chain) has loads of moving parts. They can’t change overnight. Inquire politely via social media and customer service streams. Suggest change. Follow up. Be patient.
How to balance zero waste & grocery shopping
Bring your shopping bags & jars. Favour seasonal produce. Buy package-free at bulk stores and avoid plastic at big supermarkets. Ask questions. Be patient while retailers adjust too.
For zero waste fashion, I learned to wear all black, reduce to a capsule wardrobe, simplify, and wash less. I now exclusively shop second-hand, and favour ethical brands and natural fibres. I learned to take my time and not give anything away too hastily.
Minimise to a capsule wardrobe
Wearing black makes it easier to minimise. Everything goes together and dresses up or down really easily. Zero waste is just as much about saving resources as it is about saving personal time and energy. I love not having to think about what to wear.
Cutting back on what I own has been a slow process over 12 months. First, I got all the stuff I rarely wear and put it in a box out of sight. At the end of each season, I sorted through it again. Anything that I didn’t miss I’d give away or sell online. I’ve still got a small box of summer clothes that I’ll reassess at the end of winter (I’ll definitely miss my thongs …ahem …that’s “flip flops” to my international friends).
Why is this related to zero waste? It’s trained me to buy less and treat fashion a bit like grocery shopping – for instance, I can easily see that I’ll need a replacement pair of black jeans in the next 2 months. This level of control and awareness allows me to slowly search the second-hand market and make more considered purchases. It has also reduced my laundry, saving time and energy.
I found it best to hide things under the bed until I was absolutely certain I’d never wear it again.
Know your size and casually trawl local markets, thrift stores, eBay and gumtree. Buy near new and good quality. Set clear standards on what you want.
I developed an eBay addiction. I began as a seller. Once I realised I could buy second-hand high quality, ethical Australian brands, I was unstoppable. I checked it every day. I saved searches of my favourite Country Road jeans, so I could get notified if they were listed. I saved searches of ALL Cue Clothing just to see what was available in my size. I bid on a pair of near new R.M Williams boots at half the price of a brand new pair. I won.
After this, I began to broaden my horizons. I love Alison Mosshart’s style, so I researched what she wears, and found an endless collection of second-hand Equipment shirts by Kate Moss. Pure silk. Rad patterns. Kind of affordable… Sadly, they didn’t fit very well. And I didn’t enjoy separating them for a gentle wash cycle.
I now have strict standards on what I buy. I try to keep to black clothes, natural fabrics and brands that I know fit well.
How to transition to a zero waste wardrobe
Audit your wardrobe and hide items on low rotation. Consider simplifying to a capsule wardrobe. Wash when needed, not after every wear. Shop second-hand. Favour ethical brands and natural fibres. Take your time and don’t get rid of anything too hastily.
Even in the big city, I believe that zero waste has a high barrier of entry but this story has a happy ending.
To begin my journey, I spent some sweet dollaridoos on a moon cup, a safety razor, beeswax wraps and a new lunchbox. These items made a significant dent in my weekly budget. A year later, it’s worked out to be financially viable and I don’t need to buy these items again. I tried to not buy anything I wasn’t 100% sure I needed (here’s lookin at you: tongue scraper!). I had to be in it for the long haul with this kit.
Today, I’m fortunate to be able to eat local, organic, plastic-free wholefoods because the soil here is rich and a portion of my income is expendable. I buy organic nuts and grains entirely package free. It’s easier for me because there are bulk stores within walking distance. Compared to the packaged “dollar dazzlers” at major supermarket chains, I started spending a lot more on food… but then something else happened:
- I no longer needed to buy beauty or cleaning products.
- We didn’t need to buy bin liners, cling wrap, aluminium foil and zip lock bags.
- We learnt how to buy and cook exactly what we need, how to store it and how to make use of scraps.
- The bathroom cupboard needed little restocking because I was making my own or favouring multipurpose products.
- I stopped buying goods brand new and learnt to repair instead of replace.
- We sold items because we no longer had a use for them.
- We started making more items from scratch like bread and tortillas, which worked out cheaper and more enjoyable.
- I realised that major supermarket chains charge more for organic produce (beauty standards?) so we saved by going direct to farmer.
- I have a feeling that organic food is why I’m not getting sick as often, so I’m not buying cold & flu medicine all the friggin time… that’s just a theory… I’ll probably get sick now that I’ve suggested that… *cough*
The steep curve eventually balances out. It gets better. It pays off. It’s worth it. But I ain’t gonna tell you it’s easy.
Truly zero waste beauty requires zero products. This is me with no make up and no hair products. I haven’t straightened my fringe or shaved my pits. I think I look great, but why do I feel like this isn’t work-appropriate? It’s possible to fast track zero waste if you’re confident with your own natural beauty at all times. It’s the “at all times” part that I struggle with.
This is progress. Here is our grocery haul from the newly dubbed “anxiety inducing organic shop” @terramadreorganics. I love this store, but I wasn’t surprised that 80% of you answered ‘yes’ to feeling overwhelmed at bulk food stores in general. I get overwhelmed too.
Influence starts with one person. For me, it was my brother, @joeltarling, who said he was trying to reduce the amount of plastic products in his kitchen. He was inspired by his wife, Bec, who I have much to learn from. It all starts with one.
Next year, I’d like to officially buy nothing brand new. As part of transitioning to zero waste, we’ve hardly bought any new goods. We bought a new @dyson vacuum cleaner after a series of second hand fails. We’ve also bought new metal containers and beeswax wraps to support our new zero waste lifestyle. All clothes purchased this year are second hand – more significantly is that I need less stuff in general.