When we think about Zero Waste and how to reduce waste, the first things that always come to mind is a) reducing food waste, and b) reducing household waste. While both are definitely very important, we do also create quite a lot of waste outside our homes.
But these straight-forward tips will help to reduce a lot of trash you would otherwise generate! You just need a couple of helper items, as I like to call them 😉.
First of all, we are all creatures of habit! Yes, even the most spontaneous ones among us! You know, I used to think I was super dooper spontaneous. When I was still in college I used to leave my dorm room, often not returning until a couple of days later, dressed in clothes that weren’t mine.
Years later I finally realized that my super dooper spontaneous actions did always have a pattern! After partying I would crave for junk food. Not exactly something unknown, right? Even on morning after a night I wasn’t partying, I was ALWAYS late in the morning and would grab a coffee to go on the way to class. Not very surprising considering the fact that I have NEVER EVER been a morning person!
Soooo, this is where I want to start with the tip # 1!
1 Know your habits!
If you’re anything like me, then chances are that you are grumpy and not very bright in the morning, which leads to taking the convenient way out. And you know what? That’s OK! Go for your coffee to go on your way to work or class – just make sure to make it a habit to grab your tumbler before you leave the house!
We used to buy a pastry and a coffee to go before a train ride (there are just too many bakeries in German train stations so we always get tempted 😝), so now when we just grab a cloth bag and a tumbler before we storm out of the house.
Collecting your trash for a couple of days or even a week will help you identify your trash-generating habits. You don’t even have to collect your trash in a bag, which could be a bit inconvenient (and might look weird) when you are on the road, right? Just take a picture of it with your smartphone. While analyzing your trash, focus on what triggered this particular buy. Write it down, and you will be able to take action!
2 Have some basic zero waste helpers on you 😊
Now that you know all about your habits and what triggers your trash-generating consumption, it’s time to pick your weapon of choice 💪.
What I always keep in my bag:
- The cutest hanky purse ever (yes, it’s a cat, and I’m supposedly an adult, but I don’t care 😜)
- A foldable shopping bag
- A clean multi-purpose tote bag (for groceries, bread, rice…)
What I sometimes add to my bag:
- My plastic-free all stainless steel refillable water bottle
- A pair of chopsticks and a spoon
- Foldable (and very sturdy) shopping bag
- Dish towel – can be used to wrap food like sandwiches, wraps, fruit…
- Tumbler for coffee, also keeps it warm (or you can just use a mason or WECK jar (9) instead)
- Hanky purse – I’m a big fan of handkerchiefs! They are so much softer on your nose, and I also use them to dry my hands
- A clean cloth bag – it’s multi-purpose: groceries, bread, pastry, a snack on the go…
- Laundry bag or just a mesh bag for produce – we usually just put everything onto the conveyer belt without any bags, and so far, no cashier has ever scolded us 😉
- Silverware – very often Asian restaurants only provide single-use chopsticks, and food stalls or food trucks only have plastic cutlery, if any at all
- Food container – it is perfect for take aways, or as a lunchbox. We also use them as doggie bags, and so far the restaurants have never complained, but have offered to put it into our containers for us
- 500 ml (2 cups) jar – I love this size! It’s perfect for soup, or to get some french fries, fried noodles, or even a coffee to go! We use WECK jars instead of mason jars for two simple reasons: 1. We live in Germany and WECK jars are a local product, 2. Mason jars are super expensive over here!
Both WECK and mason jars are very sturdy by the way.
- Refillable water bottle – most refillable water bottles are made from plastics, and most of the metal ones are made from aluminium. Because aluminium is a health risk, these bottles are coated. However, once you drop your precious water bottle, the coating will chip, and you will be able to tell it has, because the water will instantly get this metally taste. When we started our zero waste journey, I bought an aluminium bottle, and it only took me only two months to drop it! So no, I wouldn’t recommend these. There are sturdy ones made from glas (e.g. Soul Bottle) or if you are as clumsy as I am, you can go for a plastic-free stainless steel bottle from e.g. Kleen Kantine, Mizu, Miir. There are other brands though, these are just the ones I know of.
3 Have a shopping list
I did say that we do go grocery shopping on a whim. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a shopping list!
My husband and I like to go digital. So we use the app Wunderlist (there are plenty of suitable apps out there though), where we have a shopping list we both share. So whenever we run low on something, one of us would add it to our shopping list, and the item will instantly show on the other persons smartphone. If one of us is out shopping, the other can add items to the list, and the one doing the shopping will go “Urgh, this way I’ll never be done” 😂.
4 Take a breather!
Coffee to go? Take away? If you forgot your tumbler or your food container, just sit down, relax, and maybe even turn off your phone for a while! Our lives are so hectic, we forget to take a breather sometimes.
And let’s be honest – coffee to go doesn’t taste very well, does it? It tastes like cardboard, and it gets cold in no time. Nah…!
5 “One soda, no straw please!”
There are a lot of trash-generaters that are never on the menu: napkins, straws, these little bags with sugar, cream pots, cocktail umbrellas…
Telling the waiter you don’t want a straw in your soda, or that you don’t need the napkin is easy and straight-forward, but at the same time really difficult, because it draws attention to us. Just try saying it as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “One soda, no straw please!”, “Oh, thanks for the napkin, but I don’t need it.”
6 Buy your tickets online
More and more places now offer online tickets, where you just show them a QR code on your smartphone.
The German raileway company now offers mobile tickets, and it works fine. However, you should remember to charge your phone and to have a screenshot or PDF backup in case you need internet connection but there is none available.
As far as I know, some movie theaters, stadiums, and other places now also offer mobile tickets. Even when you have to print the ticket, it can still be the more sustainable option, since regular paper can be recycled, whereas glossy tickets often cannot.
7 Avoid window shopping
We often think: “Oh, it’s only window shopping, I won’t buy anything,” but drooling over things will make us WANT to buy them. And there it is: The inner fight with temptation!
Let’s be real for a moment. When it comes to these small cheap items, our threshold is set pretty low. We think: “Oh, come on, it’s only a buck or two,” and bam, it’s in our home, never to be used again.
Remember: Everything we hoard in our home that we do not even use, is a waste of resources and money! And when it comes to the cheap buys, we never stop to think about why these things can be sold at such a low low price. Because if we did, we would know that it is because we are not paying the real price. The real price is paid by exploited workers, slaughtered animals, and the polluted environment along the production process.
Anyway, there is only so much time. Our lifespan is limited, and I for one prefer to spend my time with my husband or working on one of thousands of projects I have on my bucket list 😁❤️!