Does your heart break at the sight of all the waste around you? Do you wish you could do something about it but you feel like your contribution would be too small to help?
You don’t need to be a homesteader or a minimalist to get involved in zero and low waste living. Taking the necessary steps towards these ideologies helps a grander scheme of minimising waste, being environmentally conscious and mindful of our surroundings.
But being a homesteader seems to be a more natural environment for this to occur. In general, homesteaders are the ones who want to reuse and repurpose and recycle because they tend to be the ones living further away from major stores and need to often use things in better ways.
When we moved onto our first homestead, we moved onto a property not connected to town water or sewerage. So on-site we have water tanks and our own septic which we need to manage, which includes getting it cleaned and ensuring we don’t use harsh chemicals which will kill the natural bacteria in the tank (septic).
So straight away we started looking at what we’re using in the house in terms of harsh cleaners and realised that we were not being environmentally friendly. We were using chemicals that were not safe for grey water and septic systems, we were using products contained in thick plastics that were difficult to recycle. We were not being zero or low waste friendly at all.
We started removing things that were not grey water friendly. Then we started removing plastics that could not be recycled. Then we started making sure we used products that were made by people who were also low and zero waste.
No contribution to living zero or low waste is too small. But, it’s important to start taking small steps to minimize the waste we produce. You don’t have to go all out hippie and do everything at once. Take baby steps and be patient with yourself and the process. If you and I combine our little efforts towards zero waste, we’ll go a long way to reducing landfill waste.
What is zero waste living?
It’s true that creating no trash at all can feel like it’s close to impossible but when you choose a zero-waste lifestyle you pay more attention to how your consumer habits impact the environment. You are more alert to what you consume and how you consume it. In short, we commit to reducing what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little to be recycled, and compost what we cannot.
Why minimise waste?
We as a society have adopted a disposable lifestyle and no longer value our belongings. We get stuff just because we can, and consequently, we’re consuming way too many resources. The more we consume the more waste needs to be sent to landfills. Landfills are toxic and are a big contribution to pollution. We need to reduce our consumption and reuse more to reduce this kind of toxic waste. A lot of our trash actually doesn’t even make it to the landfills. It’s the waste you see on the sides of roads. A lot of this is plastic which then makes its way into the ocean. This plastic is very dangerous to the ocean, marine life, and our health. Can we fully depend on recycling? No. it’s not enough. Recycling isn’t a perfect solution by the way. While it plays into the solution, we have to lessen our dependence and lessening our depends means supporting more those small business and entities that make commitments to be zero and low waste themselves.
If you don’t need it don’t buy it. If you take a moment and just think about it, a lot of what you have you don’t need it. You honestly can do without it. The less you consume, the less there will be to waste.
Use what you have
You don’t need to buy new items to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. Check around your home for what you already have that can minimise wastage. Use empty glasses to store dry foods and consume your leftovers instead of throwing them out, as long as they’re still fresh of course.
Eliminate single-use plastics
Take a trash audit for a week noting down what you throw out after just a single use. Most common culprits will be plastic utensils, paper napkins and plastic water bottles. Where you can, replace the stuff you use once with reusable items. For instance swap plastic utensils with reusable cutlery.
Always opt for reusable items especially bags. Studies show that an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year. Plastic bags and bottles cause the biggest strain on our environment. Replacing them in our day to day lives is one of the quickest and easiest changes towards zero waste living. Invest in a few reusable grocery bags and use them for your shopping. Use glass jars more and get an eco-friendly reusable water bottle instead of buying a plastic bottle each time.
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk is another great way to reduce waste at home. You not only get to save the environment but your wallet too! Small items accumulate the amount of packaging used increasing the amount of waste. These days, there are lots of food stores and markets selling food items in bulk especially dried fruits, nuts, cereal, rice, beans, spices, etc. Some supermarkets even offer stations where you can refill your shampoo, soap, and other toiletry items. Most bulk stores won’t mind if you take your own containers/jars/boxes. So carry your reusable containers and bags when you go shopping next time for some zero waste shopping.
Compost what you can. Food scraps and paper are some items that you can compost at home. Shop around for an indoor composting system or better still make a home garden. Also, try to switch from non-compostable items to stuff that can be composted.
Bring your own
Take away meals contribute so much waste, yet they’ve become the norm today. Reduce waste by bringing your own food and drink. Not only is it waste-free, but you’ll also save money too. If you must have takeaway bring your own set of dishes and utensils. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a lunch container with a fork, knife, spoon, cloth napkin and cup will do. Keep them in your car and use them when you’re heading out for the day.
Take reusable bags for grocery shopping
One reason why most of us use plastic bags during shopping is that we always forget our reusable bags at home. A neat trick is to put one reusable bag in every bag that you take out with you so that you always remember to take one. By switching to only reusable bags, you can make a huge impact on the environment.
Ditch the paper towels
Paper towels are quite convenient for cleaning or drying your hands, but it’s convenience we can easily do without for the sake of the environment. Use sponges and reusable and washable cloths instead.
Use bar soap
Use bar soap for all your cleaning needs instead of liquid soap. Bar soaps come wrapped in a wrapper instead of plastic bottles that are quite harsh to the environment. Also, consider using zero waste laundry detergent. We have a soap company on our homestead called Homestead Soapery, and sell bar soaps suitable for grey water and septic tanks!
Repair your things and buy good quality
Don’t throw out stuff just because they are broken or old. Repair them when necessary to avoid waste. Got a lamp that won’t work? Check if it’s fixable before rushing to buy another one and throwing the old one in the trash. Additionally, when purchasing new items, make sure to get the best quality you can afford. Go for quality instead of convenience and good deals. High-quality items such as furniture and clothing are built to last and you don’t need to replace them every few years. The truth is that the too-good-to-be-true deals usually end up costing you more and creating more waste in the long run.
Plan your meals
In doing so, you shop smartly and reduce your waste. When you know what you’ll be making you’ll know exactly what to buy and avoid excess produce that might go to waste before you use them. A meal plan will also encourage you to cook at home more and avoid takeout.
Buy loose produce
Instead of buying packaged fruit and vegetables, buy them loose. Then pack them yourself in small reusable bags. This will help you reduce the amount of plastic bags used.
Donate unused items
Do you have stuff around your home that you no longer want or use? Don’t throw them out, donate them instead. There are people who will find these items to be useful. Another great way of having a zero-waste home is to always ask yourself this question whenever you’re shopping. Don’t pick up stuff if you won’t be needing them much.
When you go shopping consider buying second-hand items whenever possible. Preloved items are a good way to reduce waste as a community. You also get to save money and even afford big brands that you might not otherwise be able to afford.
Go paperless for all your bills
This is a perfect way of going zero waste. Cancel all your paper bills and instead view them online. The same goes for bank statements. Going paperless will save paper and the environment in the long run.
Swap tea bags for loose leaf tea in a reusable strainer
Did you know that tea bags have plastic in them? Switch to loose leaf tea and use it in a teapot with an infuser. You’ll end up saving a lot of waste.
Stainless steel pegs are a great alternative to plastic pegs which easily snap anyway. Wire pegs may be more expensive than plastic ones but they last forever and won’t need constant replacing.
Save paper and take notes on your laptop instead of a notepad. Use email instead of paper when communicating with your colleagues. We live in a digital landscape and should reduce our need for paper as best we can.
Choose natural items
Buy all-natural zero waste products and be part of decreasing our overall trash output. Replace plastic with natural alternatives. For instance, instead of using aerosol cans or packages of air fresheners, use natural potpourris. Use wooden kitchen utensils instead of plastic ones. Natural materials can easily be composted instead of adding them to the landfills.
Buy products without packaging wherever possible, or at least with recyclable packaging
When shopping, always look for eco-conscious products that come in zero waste produce bags such as recyclable cardboard boxes, reusable jars or containers. Buy your fruits and vegetables loose and carry them in your reusable shopping bags.
Stop using cling wrap and other plastic wraps
Cling wrap is rarely recycled hence, it only adds to our waste. Swap it and other plastic wraps with silicon snack pouches and silicone wrap. These can be washed and reused. The pouches can be used for storing things other than foods such as accessories.
Local shops use less plastic wraps. By shopping local, you’ll not only support your local economy but also waste less plastic. So instead of heading to the supermarket, turn back and head to the local farmer’s market or green grocer’s.
Say no to trends
It can be tempting to jump on every new trend in fashion, gadgets or games, etc. Before you jump onto a trend ask yourself if you will want that item a year from now. It might just be a fad that will pass in no time.
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