Zero Waste is the sustainability buzzword at the moment and, I’ll admit, it used to scare me! The idea that we should be striving to fill a single glass jar with our artfully posed waste (thanks Instagram!!) seems completely unrealistic and stressful beyond belief!
The reality, of course, is much less daunting when you take the time to assess the situation. The true aim of zero waste is: to ultimately send zero waste to landfill. Of course we all will generate waste. There is no getting away from it. But, by approaching things in the right way for our individual lifestyles and by really looking at what we bring into our homes as well as what we throw away, we can all make steps to get a little closer to Zero Waste.
There is no such thing as away
This saying is true and is something we forget as we are casually chucking last nights take away packets in the bin. It sounds totally obvious but I how many of us really think about it? It shows how much our lives have become so enveloped by consumerism. The way we shop, eat, live is driven by it and throwing away is just another fact of life.
To really make lasting changes, you need to know exactly what you are throwing away. You will of course have an idea based on the things you buy but, trust me, you will be surprised. My own waste audit was a huge eye-opener. Not only did it make me rethink my disposal methods; it also made me look at what I was bringing in to the house.
How to Do a Waste Audit
- Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Better yet, keep it on your fridge or near the bin so you can complete it daily.
- Everytime you throw something away, write it down. Even if you re-think and decide to recycle or reuse, write it down anyway. Try and assume the position you would have done before all this zero-waste talk.
- Do this for at least 1 whole week so you can get a clear picture of your waste habits.
After you have completed your waste audit, you may want to categorise your waste items. I found this particularly helpful when moving to the next step of making changes to my shopping habits. You can’t do it all at once so use the categories to work out which area of your life you want to work on first.
My categories were:
- Fresh food packaging – plastic trays for meat, vegetable wrapping bags for cut herbs and cheese, etc.
- Store cupboard packaging – tin cans, jars, plastic wrapping for pasta and rice, coffee bags, etc
- Bathroom/Toiletries – shower gel bottles, toothpaste tube, toilet roll tubes and packaging, cotton pads for face, sanitary products, etc
- Food waste – veggie/fruit ends and skin, coffee grounds, tea bags, bones, etc.
- Cleaning product/other non-food packaging: plastic spray bottles, toilet cleaner bottles, etc.
Look at what you are bringing in…
The waste hierarchy
At some point in our lives, we’ve all come across the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra. I certainly remember it from my childhood along with Tidy Britain and The Wombles. A brilliant extension of the 3 Rs is the 7-point Waste Hierarchy: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rehome, Repair, Recycle and Rot.
The idea is that when you are contemplating getting rid of something, start with Refuse and work your way up to Rot as the last resort when all else fails. Refuse is the first step as, by not bringing the thing into your home in the first place, that thing will not end up as waste at all!
Going back to the waste categories you identified in your audit, where in your life can you make changes to the items that you use so that you are bringing less into your home? For example, can you refuse the plastic wrapping by bring tubs to the supermarket in which to carry your meat? Is there a refill or bulk shop near you where you can stock up on porridge oats that aren’t in a plastic bag?
Look at what you are throwing out…
I won’t go into all the waste hierarchy levels now, that’s for another day. But, I will address the position of the Recycle step in second to last place. Recycling is always preferable to landfill wherever possible and is a great place to start. But, it uses a lot of resources: energy, transportation,etc. Also, not everything is as easy to recycle as we may be led to believe.
That being said, I would always encourage anyone taking their first steps to Zero Waste to start with recycling. In January, I made it my goal to utilise my local recycling services and I immediately saw a reduction in my general waste. I’ve listed a few things to bear in mind below:
Tips for Recycling
- Check your local council website for what items can be recycled in your area and what goes in each bin. They should also give you some guidance on best-practice when filling your bins.
- Wash and/or rinse out your items before binning. Contaminated waste will not be recycled and can lead to all your recycling being dumped in landfill which is obviously a complete waste of time.
- Flatten cardboard boxes and don’t stuff things in a full bin. Collectors won’t put their hands in your bin to pull out stuff stuck in it if it’s too full as this is unsafe.
- Make use of your local recycling centres for things you can’t have collected such as clothing or electrical goods. A lot of places will salvage broken items for parts to be reused and may even sell on goods that do work.
I’m going to close this post as I opened it….Zero Waste is a scary ideal! But, it doesn’t have to be. Take your first steps by looking at what you throw away first then move on to how you can minimise it. Set yourself goals. Maybe this month, focus on recycling and next month, start a composter or stop using plastic bags for your veggies. Try a product swap and invest in something reusable to replace something disposable like cotton buds or razors. Every small step counts and, though not all of us may get to zero-waste, we can all do our part to get as close as we can.