I thought I’d write a post for those of you who are absolute beginners on your journey to reduce waste. First of all, I’d like to say ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’. By deciding that you’d like to make some changes, you’ve already made the biggest, most important step of your journey. Desiring change makes you look at the world in a different way and changes you into a conscious consumer.
Secondly, I’d like to reassure you that you can, and should, take things slowly, making changes one at a time. If you rush and try to change everything at once (like I did!), it suddenly seems insurmountable and overwhelming. Aim to change one thing per week or per month. When it’s part of your routine and you don’t have to think about it anymore, move on to the next thing.
Thirdly, don’t worry about any blips. We all have our moments when we forget our bags or water bottle, feel unable to refuse something or have a bad day and need to indulge in something processed and plastic-wrapped. You’re already a zero waste success just by making a start.
So, onto the tips and swaps:
1. Water bottle. Plastic bottles are one of the biggest problems when it comes to plastic pollution. Remembering to take a bottle of water from home will save you reaching for the bottled water when out and about, thereby saving you money and reducing your impact on th environment. After trying a few, we love our double-walled stainless steel bottles that we bought in TK Maxx. They keep drinks cool (or hot) and don’t taint the water at all.
2. Reusable cup. If you like to grab a coffee on your way to work or in your lunchbreak, think how many disposable coffee cups that adds up to in a year! Takeaway cups are made from a composite material, which is expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to recycle. Styrofoam releases toxins when it is heated and takes hundreds of years to break down in landfill. Invest in an insulated, reusable cup to save all those cups from landfill. There are some very fancy reusable cups available at eye-watering prices, but you can pick them up quite cheaply in camping shops and charity shops. A lot of coffee shops now offer a discount if you bring your own cup.
3. Shopping bags. Recent studies have shown that a cloth bag needs to be used 150 times to warrant the materials and energy used in manufacturing it, whilst a plastic bag needs to be used considerably less. However, a plastic bag is not as durable, uses finite oil in its manufacturing and can take anything from 20-350 years to break down in landfill once its life is over. A sturdy cotton shopping bag will last for decades, can be repurposed into rags once its carrying days are over and only takes 15 years to break down in compost. I use mine at least once a week and I’ve had them for about 5-10 years, so I’ve more than made up for the manufacturing process I feel. Stick a few in the boot of your car and one in your handbag and you’ll never be caught short without one. Save the plastic bags that you do use and reuse them as many times as you possibly can to make those precious resources go as far as possible. When they’re no longer useable, they can go in the soft plastic recycling that many supermarkets now provide.
4. Buy loose produce. In my opinion, there is absolutely no reason for fresh fruit and vegetables to be shrouded in plastic, except perhaps for salad, which is easy enough to grow at home if you have the time, energy and inclination. Supermarkets may claim that plastic wrapping keeps food fresher for longer (thereby doing their bit to avoid food waste) and cleaner, but I disagree. I wash all our fruit and vegetables before use, whether they’ve been in plastic or not. And I can’t say I’ve noticed food lasts longer in plastic. I think that’s just an excuse because it’s quicker for staff to handle, easier to price and makes the checkout process faster. I have some light, mesh bags for fresh produce, or sometimes I just put it straight in the trolley as is. If it works with your routine and budget, you could look for a local greengrocer or a veg box scheme. At the moment, we buy probably half of our fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging.
5. Swap tissues for handkerchiefs. Handkerchiefs can be picked up cheaply in small, independent shops that sell household goods. You can also often find unopened boxes of handkerchiefs in charity shops. They’re softer on the nose, save a fortune on tissues and can just be popped in the machine with the towels and tea towels.
6. Swap paper kitchen towels for kitchen rags. Repurpose old towels, tea towels, holey bed sheets and dishcloths into kitchen rags for mopping up spills to save using paper kitchen towels, which come wrapped in plastic and can’t be composted. Simply wash them with the towels and tea towels. If they’re cotton, they can be composted once they’re too straggly to be any use.
7. Swap paper napkins for cloth napkins. Paper napkins also come wrapped in plastic and can’t be composted due to the bleaching and inks used to colour them. Rummage in charity shops for napkins or if you’re handy with a sewing machine, cut up a large cotton sheet and hem it into squares.
8. Swap cotton wool for flannel or muslin. Save money on your skincare routine by switching from costly and non-compostable cotton wool to a cotton flannel or muslin cloth. Some crafty folks crochet washable make-up rounds from cotton thread or make cotton rounds from soft brushed cotton or terry towelling. We have some of these, which were gifts, but they can be pricey. Cotton flannels are far cheaper and do the job just as well.
9. Swap sponge scourers for dishcloths and brushes. Since I left home, sponge scourers were always my ‘go to’ washing up implement, until I realised how long they would take to break down in landfill, not to mention the tiny bits that would enter the waterway every time I washed up. Now I use cotton dishcloths (just like my mum always did!) and wash them with all the other kitchen rags, hankies, etc. When they get tatty, they go in the rag bag for my husband to use as oily rags. I also have a wooden-handled dish brush and a stainless steel scourer for those stubborn bits.
10. Swap liquid soap for bar soap. For some reason, when my children were little, I bought liquid soap in a plastic container instead of bar soap. I think it was probably a combination of worrying about cleanliness and wanting to encourage them to wash their hands. When I started our zero waste journey, one of the first things I did was swap back to bar soap. I have Dettol soap in the kitchen for washing my hands after nasty jobs and elsewhere in the house a mixture of castille soap and scented soaps. I now have to be strict with myself not to indulge in buying fancy bars of soap! You can read more about liquid soap vs bar soap and how to make your own liquid soap from bar soap here.
There you go, ten easy swaps to reduce your waste and save you money into the bargain. If you felt these were all too easy and you’re ready for the next stage, or you have some disposable income to invest in your zero waste lifestyle, check out my post Top 10 Next Steps To Reduce Your Waste. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on!