You might wonder: Where to start? How do I stop my garbage can from overflowing? What I found most helpful was what Béa Johnson‘s said in the following Video: “Whatever you bring in from the outside into your home will become your problem.”
The 5 R’s
So here are Béa’s very helpful 5 R’s!
- reuse (+repair)
(In this order!)
Zero Waste starts by refusing things. Whatever you still have and use you should reduce to save resources. Substitute disposables for reusable options, and instead of tossing things repair them! Separate what little trash you have left and make sure to recycle. Compost what’s left and let it rot.
Refusing will eliminate most of your trash.
Learn to say no! Say no to produce wrapped in plastic! Say no to freebies and bargains! Say no to disposables! Say not to participating in unsustainable practices!
The more we accept all those things that will inevitably end up in landfills, the more demand we generate for those unsustainable things.
Easily disposable items of low quality are cheap and we buy them because we didn’t have to spend a lot of money. But cheap things are cheap for a reason. To cut the costs, they were produced using chemicals and materials from questionable sourcing, which means very often they leech toxins! And they couldn’t be sold at such low prices if workers – very often children – weren’t exploited along the production process.
In the long run, those low-quality items will cost you even more than buying a good quality one from the start, since most are made to break easily – so you will buy a new one to replace it!
- Buying in big supermarkets often mean more packaging, even in the produce section. Shop at the farmer’s market or at small local stores. They are usually also very more open to individual solutions
- Take out your phone and take pictures of pamphlets or business cards. Accept the information, but not the physical item! This way you have all the crucial information on you at all times. I mean, cross my heart, I’d lose those cards anyway, but I am very careful not to lose my phone!
- Freebies like pens or swag bags are tempting. VERY tempting. To be honest, I am actually a cheap person. I was brought up in a bargain hunting crazed family. We would spend a LOT of money on useless cheap things just because they were a steal. What helped me resist the temptation to always grab everything free within my arm’s reach was to remind myself of the horrible carbon footprint, the exploitation of workers, and how in the end, those things will be come clutter and a problem. Too useless to keep, too “good” to throw away.
I always thought that it was only me. Every time I opened my closet and I saw all the unworn pieces of clothing, I felt bad. Just a while back when I started to get rid of 80% of my wardrobe I asked around, and it turned out that it’s a very normal phenomenon!
We all have a lot of things at home we never use. Some of them we haven’t even ever unpacked! Why? Because we buy on impulse. We see something, in that specific moment we like it, and bam, we bought it. However, the novelty and joy of having it wears out very quickly and then it’s just another item we have at home that doesn’t add any value to our life.
Also, reduce your overall consumption. But if you actually refuse everything that comes packaged in plastic you will have anyway.
Pare down and give your things a second life
All those things you are not using or do not really need had to be produced at one point. It’s a waste of resources to have them collect dust at your home. Donate or sell them. This way, someone else can reuse your things instead of buying new products, using up more resources.
You can donate your things to Good Will, or you can give them away using local Facebook groups. You can also sell clothes and electronics on ebay, Craigslist, at a flea market or host a garage sale. Nowadays, there are more and more swap parties where you can swap your unwanted stuff with one another. Everybody leaves happy and nobody had to spend a dime :).
Simplify your life
Clever marketing campaigns and TV ads have taught us that we have a lot of needs, and that there is at least one uber specialized product for each of our crazy needs. I used to have a face cream for daytime (for super sensitive skin), another one for nighttime (extra rich), another one for winter (daytime), another one for summer (daytime), another aqua-something one called night-repair, then an anti-aging eye cream (with Q10), a daytime eye cream with SPF, a super moisturizing eye cream (nighttime)… I could go on and on and on, but, you get the idea ;).
Now I only use oils we also use for cooking. Usually that’s sunflower seed, olive and coconut oil. I usually break out very easily and some of those uber creams left my skin read and ichty for weeks. I’ve been using mainly oil (I did use up some of my lotions and creams) for a year now and my skin has never been better!
We only use white vinegar and sometimes a bit of baking soda for cleaning, and we use alep soap to wash our entire body (hands, face, body, feet – everything), our clothes and our dishes (we make detergent out of alep soap and baking soda). You can even use alep soap to wash your hair if you use vinegar (1/4 cup vinegar + 1 cup of water) to rinse it afterwards. That’s all you need to keep yourself and your home clean. No more toxins and a lot more cupboard space where our army of cleaning products used to be!
3. Reuse (and repair)
Disposables are, well, disposable. Which means you have to buy them over and over. Which in turn means you keep spending money on things that you will throw away. You might as well throw away your money directly. At least that would have a better carbon footprint…
It’s very easy to replace disposables:
- Disposable razors – electric shaver, straight-edge razor, double-blade razor
- Cotton rounds – washable cotton rounds
- Tissues – handkerchiefs
- Paper towels – microfibre or cotton cloths
- Paper napkins – cloth napkins (or just use handkerchiefs)
- Dish sponge – cotton cloth
- Tea bags – loose tea and a tea strainer/ french press
- Coffee pads/ filter cones – french press/ reusable coffee filter cones or pads
- Baking parchment – grease the cake pan/ silicon mat
- Tin foil/ cling film – put it in a food container or jar, or wrap it in a dish towel
- Paper bags/ plastic bags – bring your own cloth/ tote bag
- Disposable lunch bags – stainless steel food containers, mason jars, dish towels
- Bottled water – a good quality glass or stainless steel water bottle (preferably plastic-free or at least BPA-free) and tap water; if you do not trust tap water cook it beforehand (you use it for cooking anyway, right)
- Toothpics – turkey lacers
- Muffin paper liners – grease your muffin tray
- Trash bags/ bin liners – at some point you might not need those anymore ;), until then go for newpaper origami
- Cleaning wipes – microfibre or cotton cloth and your homemade vinegar cleaning solution (1/4 cup distilled vinegar + 1 cup of water)
- Toilet paper – a bottle, water, soap and a washcloth
Also, pack your lunches in reusable food containers and shop with reusables.
If things break, repair them or have them repaired. Mend clothes, upcycle items you would otherwise toss. Buy second hand and remember: some things you don’t have to actually own, it’s sufficient to have access (i.e. movies, music, library, tools, or even cars or office space).
After you have refused, reduced, and reused there shouldn’t be much left to recycle. Still, make sure to separate your trash so that those resources can be reused instead of filling our landfills.
Don’t just throw your kitchen scraps away! Get a worm bin and let those little fellows turn your waste into high-quality fertilizer! It’s the most efficient and local form of recycling where the trash doesn’t even need to be transported wasting fuel and whatnot ;).
You will find a ton of videos on youtube showing you how you can set up a worm bin (also try searching for “worm composting system” or “vermicomposting system”). Here’s a wiki on it.
We’ve had our wooden worm bin for half a year now. We keep it in the kitchen since that’s the best temperature for the worms. It does not smell and especially children find it very fascinating. It’s very educational too, since it is in fact a very own eco system! A worm bin does require taking care of it, but it’s definitely less time-consuming than bringing out the trash every couple of days 😉 .