It is safe to say we all care about the environment. I am quite certain that no one (no matter how economically-focused) wants to see the end to greenery, fish, bees, rivers, waterways and entire ecosystems.
This planet of ours is beautiful and it supports our existence, however in the very short time man has been on the Earth we’ve treated it poorly. One thing we do terribly is handling our waste. Firstly we produce so, so much waste; approximately 1.5 tonnes is produced by the average Australian family each year (Greenpeace).
This is largely plastics, textiles and sadly food waste too. Why should you care? Because much of what cannot be recycled goes into landfills, like plastics, which release harmful chemicals into the soil and waterways. The amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean is appalling; the University of Georgia estimates about 18 billion tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year.
Ultimately this ends up being consumed by the animals, in many cases, plastics are the cause of death for animals. Meaning the seafood you are eating will have likely dined on plastic straws and bottle caps. Yes, this problem is gargantuan, but don’t despair, there is so much you as an individual can do. In fact, now more than ever it is the consumers spending choices that are making the changes.
What You Can Do
There is much you can do to make a difference with the waste explosion we have created. It is important not to beat yourself up if you cannot make these changes all at once, or if you can only do a few of them. Every little change or small swap adds up whether you can go completely zero waste or not. Moving in the direction of producing less waste is always going to be a great decision.
Bring Your Own Cup
Bringing your own mug with a lid is a really simple change if you’re getting takeaway tea or coffee. I use a Keep Cup but there are many brands of these reusable mugs. My local coffee shop gives a pretty decent discount for anyone who brings their own cup too. If you’ve found this change easy to incorporate bump it up to the next level by bringing your own reusable glass or metal containers whenever you’re getting food to go. An especially exciting consumer-backed change has seen many cafes completely stopping their use of straws. If however you still love your milkshakes or juices to come to you via a straw, try these reusable metal ones.
Shop Plastic-Free with Your Own Reusable Bags
I am so proud of the two biggest grocery stores in Australia who have both made big changes toward eliminating plastic bags at their checkouts. I find this tip the easiest when I keep reusable shopping bags in my car as well as some foldable ones in my every-day bag. If it’s a surprise trip to the store then I’m covered. Reusable bags that are made of cotton or fabrics that can break down or be recycled are the best choice.
When I shop I always aim to buy items that are not wrapped in plastic. This is easy when shopping at a bulk food store, or the farmers market. However, if your option is the grocery store, then opt for fruit and vegetables that are not wrapped or packaged. Yes, this may slightly alter your options but I promise there are more than enough choices of non-packaged, zero waste items. When shopping in the middle sections of the store, aim for glass or paper packaging; this is easy with items like olive oil and peanut butter – choose glass packaging. With items like bread and animal products step back in time and try for a bakery and/or a butcher to make the purchase zero waste. They’re usually happy to wrap your items in bread bags (bring your own) or paper and then you can transfer them to appropriate storage when you get the food back home.
This is one I am still working on. It is far too easy to buy clothing brand new when prices are low, an item looks gorgeous and it is conveniently placed and marketed to appeal to you. However, this is just encouraging companies to keep producing clothing, that we barely wear more than once, with a high turnover. By purchasing clothing second hand, you’ll save money, be likely to only shop if you actually need an item, likely to learn to sew and lastly you won’t be contributing to this form of waste and all the damages to people and the planet that go along with it. If you aren’t a fan of thrift stores, there are many websites dedicated to swapping pre-loved and barely used clothing items. If you’d like to learn more about fast fashion check out my post here: How to be a Mindful Consumer.
If it’s furniture or technology you want to buy websites like Gumtree are brilliant for recycling items that may never get used otherwise, and there are some great finds on here.
Instead of getting taxed for being a woman, make the switch to reusable pads and menstrual cups for those who prefer it. This was one of the best zero waste swaps I have ever made and since switching I have saved hundreds of dollars over the last few years on pads and tampons. I was fairly nervous that reusable organic cotton pads would stain or smell or not be able to hold their weight but they hold a heap, have never stained and do not smell. I used to hate running out of pads and being stuck racing to the chemist, now I never run out since I just wash and re-wear. Simple.
Make Your Own Products
This tip is for those of you who are a little more adventurous and I would highly recommend trying even one or two of your own products as opposed to buying them. Cleaning and beauty products are rarely zero waste and are often packaged in plastic. Furthermore, there are a lot of questionable ingredients in products that we put on our skin or clean our homes with that you probably wouldn’t choose for yourself. For many home-made products, I get my ideas from Trash is for Tossers. But here are two great products that I now make myself, saving the environment and my purse.
- White vinegar
- Citrus Rinds (Lemon)
- Eucalyptus Oil (or any essential oil you like, totally optional)
Fill a glass jar or bottle half with vinegar and half with water. Add several drops of your chosen oil, and put a few lemon rinds in there too (these will float on top) mix and clean away. This one is great for surfaces and bathrooms.
Bathroom Scrub (for any porcelain surfaces):
- Bicarb Soda (aka baking soda) 1 cup
- Grated Soap (package free) approximately 1/2 a bar
- Salt 1 teaspoon
- Warm water 1 cup
- Essential Oil of your choice (optional)
Mix all together and scrub away. Particularly good for toilets, baths, and sinks.
Try not to be overwhelmed by making every change overnight. Even the most stoic environmentalist occasionally has to resort to using plastics or buying items new. However the less you have to do this the better for the planet and everyone on it.
If there are any zero-waste changes you have implemented share them below.