Living zero waste doesn’t have to mean displaying a jam jar sized amount of annual waste on Instagram. (Although if you do produce that little waste each year, a serious bravo to you!)
For us regular folk, being entirely zero waste is an eco-ask too far, as much as we may like to achieve jam jar status. But living a zero waste lifestyle can be more achievable.
This means gradually making small changes that reduce your waste, in all areas of your life. Being on the go, travelling, eating out and staying in can all be given the zero waste lifestyle treatment.
But how? Why? What are the zero waste essentials that will help?
In keeping with the zero waste theme, I’ll get straight down to it without further ado. Here’s how to zero waste your lifestyle.
Why Zero Waste?
Shopping generally means packaging. Whether it’s food, household cleaners, bathroom products, kids toys or clothes. And inevitably, this packaging is made entirely or mostly from plastic.
The world has created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since its invention in 1907 – and only 9% of it has been recycled. The rest is either still in use (think well loved plastic toys and items with longevity such as TVs) or languishes in landfill.
One third of all the plastic that doesn’t get recycled ends up polluting our land and oceans. Plastic in landfill leaches chemicals into the environment. Plastic in green spaces and oceans kills unsuspecting wildlife curiously drawn to it in a quest for food.
So the simple answer to why zero waste, is to reduce packaging.
There’s little doubt about our need to use less plastic and consume less stuff in general.
Consumerism tells us that we need this new thing and that innovative new gadget.
Supermarkets make us buy three peppers wrapped in plastic, rather than one loose one. Fast fashion tells us to buy cheap, wear once, buy more.
But at Eco & Beyond we’re championing a slower movement, one where we have fewer things and generate less waste. What could be simpler than buying one reusable water bottle and filling it from the tap time and time again. Rather than buying a new bottle every day?
So now we know why zero waste is important, how do we do it? What are the zero waste essentials we need to succeed?
The Zero Waste Essentials You Can’t Be Without if You’re on the Go
Being out of the house is the time when zero waste essentials are most important. The chances are, when you’re commuting, at work or out socialising for the day, you’ll need a drink or something to eat.
There’s many choices on the high street now. Whether you fancy a bog-standard flat white or a fancy Lebanese flatbread, you’ll find it. But eating and drinking on the go all too often means single use packaging.
So here’s how to combat all that waste:
Reusable Water Bottles
Water bottles come in all different materials and sizes. Bobble water bottles have a nifty carbon filter in the cap which is great if you like to filter your tap water. These filter the water as you sip, but are encased in plastic and will need replacing every three months or so.
Black & Blum water bottles are free from BPA (a chemical used in many plastics that’s linked with potential toxic side effects). They come with a cork and silicone lid and again use charcoal (without plastic) to filter tap water as you drink.
These filters can be recharged after three months by boiling them in water for ten minutes. They can then be used for another three months. Then they make a handy deodoriser for your gym trainers! Black & Blum also make glass water bottles and insulated stainless steel versions.
Reusable Coffee Cups
KeepCup are one of the most well known brands of reusable coffee cups. They come in a range of styles, some made with hard wearing plastic, others from glass.
Their range of colours is great too. Ideal for each member of the family or for making yours stand out on the office draining board.
Reusable Lunch Boxes and Cutlery
Zero waste essentials for when you’re on the go don’t stop at things you can drink from. Many shops stock bamboo cutlery. Carry these with you and use them when you’re eating a shop bought salad or food from a market stall.
Many zero wasters like to take their own food with them. To avoid single use cling film and tin foil, look for a lunch bag or box instead. Some are collapsible and needn’t take up too much room in your bag when you’re done.
Other, more rigid boxes are made using stainless steel or bamboo, without a piece of plastic in sight. They make perfect kids lunch boxes too. There’s also nothing wrong with using a plastic lunch box if you already have it – use it to death and make the most of it.
These reusable zero waste items are also great when you’re travelling further afield. Remember to keep sharps out of your hand luggage and to empty your water bottle before you get to security. You’ll be able to fill it up again at airside water fountains at most airports.
How Can I Shop Waste Free?
Online shopping is tricky to get right as items need to be securely packaged. Even cardboard is usually sealed with tape that contains non recyclable plastic.
Many ethical online shops use eco friendly packaging. Some even offset their delivery carbon footprint.
But to truly shop zero waste means going back to basics and shopping in person. Rule number one for zero waste shopping is carrying reusable cotton or paper bags with you. You’ll find these everywhere, from clothes shops to supermarkets.
Look out for bags made from unbleached organic or fair trade cotton, or unbleached paper. Just because they’re not made from plastic, they still take resources to make, so don’t go overboard.
Zero waste shopping means looking out for fresh produce not wrapped in plastic. Some supermarkets are expanding their plastic free ranges (Sainsbury’s seem to me to be topping the trend). You’ll also find unpackaged produce in farmers’ markets and food fairs.
Bulk buy and zero waste stores are also great. They stock everything from flour to washing up liquid. You can buy as much as you need by filling up your own containers. We’ve produced a guide to plastic free shopping. It details everything you need to know, including your zero waste essentials and where to find your nearest zero waste shop.
Zero Waste Essentials in the Kitchen…
At home, our kitchens are often a graveyard of single use plastics. Shopping in zero waste stores (see above) will help reduce packaging waste. But you don’t have to stop there.
Redecker and Full Circle make a range of compostable washing up brushes made from wood and natural plant bristles. LoofCo make washing up sponges and scourers made from compostable loofah and coconut husks.
For cleaning tops and surfaces, you can use old flannels or cut up bits of clothing that’s no good for charity. You can also make your own cleaning products and store them in old shop bought bottles.
Cotton produce bags are great for storing potatoes and onions. They can also be used for zero waste shopping. Ask bakeries to give you your bread unwrapped and use a reusable bread bag. In the same way, bring your own tubs and containers to butchers, fishmongers and deli counters.
There are some zero waste essentials when it comes to washing and drying your clothes, too. Laundry Ecoballs from Ecozone last for 1,000 washes. They clean clothes just as well as powders and tablets. Ecozone also make drying cubes that you can use in the tumble drying instead of sheets if you use one.
Zero Waste Essentials for the Bathroom
Georganics make a range of zero waste toothpastes, dental flosses, mouthwashes and toothbrushes. Their glass jars can be reused to store other things and their toothbrushes can be composted (minus the bristles).
Shampoo and conditioner bars mean no plastic bottle waste. As does switching from liquid soap and shower gel to bars of soap.
Plastic free menstrual cups are also zero waste. They can be tricky to get used to, and they don’t suit everyone. If you can’t get on with them, opt for plastic free towels and tampons from Natracare.
Eating Out, Zero Waste Style
When you’re eating out, don’t forget your doggy bag! Many cafes and restaurants are happy to put your leftovers into a takeaway tub, but they’re often made from plastic. Taking your own box or tub means nothing gets wasted.
Look for zero waste restaurants too. They specialise in using all the edible parts of a plant or animal and making sure no food goes to waste. Which, now you have your zero waste essentials, aligns perfectly with your lifestyle!
Compostables in Disguise – All the Gear, No Idea?
After all this positivity, I do sadly need to add in a little rant. Zero waste essentials include being green savvy as well as owning all the kit.
Let’s not get sucked into greenwashing. I was recently at a food festival and saw lots of people drinking from single use plastic cups.
My heart was instantly lifted when I saw these single use cups branded with “I am not a plastic cup. 100% compostable. 100% biodegradable.” Alas this heart lifting moment was short lived when I saw them all being chucked in the normal rubbish bins with everything else.
It’s great that these cups weren’t made from plastic (they use cornstarch instead). But let’s not get carried away.
To be as eco as they claim to be, they need to be disposed of properly. I asked, and was told they can all go in the bin, and that “I can use as many as I like without feeling guilty”. But I know this not to be true.
Compostable or biodegradable packaging won’t turn into compost or biodegrade in landfill. They both need specific conditions to break down. Additionally, compost heaps, either at home or industrial, need to be regularly turned.
It feels like this festival was ticking a box to meet sustainability targets without seeing things through properly. So watch out. There are seemingly well meaning ways to help our quest, but we need to question if they’re as well meaning as we think.
Buying More Stuff to Use Less Stuff
Living a zero waste lifestyle means creating less waste and buying fewer consumables. But to get there, you’ll need to do a little bit of savvy shopping and buy a few more things.
I know, counterintuitive, right?
To carry on drinking water when you’re travelling, you’ll need something to put it in. Which means buying a reusable water bottle. (Or buying one meant for single use purposes, and refilling it. Although it probably won’t last as long as one made from more durable materials.)
Another contradiction is buying a plastic reusable water bottle. The real problem is avoidable single use plastics. But there are many plastic reusable versions out there that still reduce waste. If this doesn’t sit well with you, look for glass bottles or bamboo coffee cups.
What going zero waste doesn’t mean, is going out and buying a load of things you don’t need. Bamboo is a great alternative to plastic straws. But if you don’t usually use a straw, then buying bamboo straws is a waste of money and resources.
Quite often, we have things in our homes that can do as good a job as buying something for a specific purpose. Why buy reusable lunch boxes when the takeaway boxes hiding at the back of the cupboard are waiting to be used?
Or, why buy fancy Kilner jars when empty jam jars are free? An eclectic range of mismatched jam jars full of rice and pasta is just as Instagrammable! Making do with what you have and repurposing items is the ultimate aim of being zero waste.
Reducing Your Waste Line
You’re here on a website all about living eco-friendly, reading an article on zero waste essentials. If you’re not already a sustainability hero, you will be soon.
It’s up to us all to do our bit. We don’t need to completely eliminate all our waste to live in the spirit of the zero waste lifestyle.
We need to be conscious of the times where we can reduce our waste. Carrying a reusable water bottle or coffee cup seems like a simple thing to do. Especially when the alternative means more waste, more pollution and more damage. Doesn’t it?