In a sustainable lifestyle, one of the credos to live by is that we should endeavor to produce no waste at all. This is often referred to as aiming for a 'zero waste' lifestyle. Any excess that we do not or cannot use should be returned to the system. Rather than living in a linear way – consuming, using and throwing away – we should all be thinking about how we can create circular systems within our homes, and become part of a wider circular economy.
Our ancestors were better at 'waste not want not' than we are today. In the modern world, we are living in a 'throwaway' society. Producing no waste at all is very challenging in the real world. It is unlikely that you will be able to eliminate waste altogether. But by following the five 'r's outlined below, you can move much, much closer to a zero waste lifestyle, and live in a more sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical way.
The strides that we can all make towards a zero waste lifestyle can give us hope that we can make a big difference, and make sure that our personal impact on our planet and other people is a positive one.
The first stage in moving towards a zero waste lifestyle involves withdrawing our support for damaging systems, and not accepting items that we do not need, or which will pose a waste problem at the end of their useful lives.
For example, we can do our part and move in the right direction by:
- Refusing to buy food or other items in plastic/ non-recyclable packaging wherever possible.
- Opting for natural, organic, local produce (even growing our own where possible) and refusing heavily processed and packaged foods.
- Choosing natural, biodegradable options rather than synthetic/plastic/ composite items when it comes to clothing, household goods etc..
- Refusing plastic straws, cutlery, plastic bags and other disposable plastic items when out and about.
- Opting for online banking etc. rather than receiving paper mail, and reducing junk mail wherever possible.
It is important to remember that by refusing items, we can affect change. The power of the consumer can encourage companies to reduce/ improve their packaging, for example. Removing your support for damaging systems can help to curtail wasteful practices.
Certain items, such as re-useable, natural fabric shopping bags, reusable drinks bottles and reusable (non-plastic) picnic/ food containers can make it easier for us to refuse damaging items and prevent waste.
The next thing to do is to consider how, in general, you might be able to reduce the amount that you purchase and consume. Before buying anything new at all it is very important to consider whether or not you really need that item at all. As well as thinking carefully, other steps that you could take to reduce consumption might include:
- Growing at least some of your own food.
- Making your own cleaning and beauty products, rather than buying endless toiletries and cleaning products in plastic bottles.
- Learn practical skills that allow you to create things yourself from scratch,rather than buying new things. For example, gardening, cooking, preserving, sewing, knitting, woodwork, metalwork etc..
- Prioritising quality over quantity (and choosing long-lasting, durable items for your home).
The rest of the 'r's outlined below will also help you reduce, in general, the amount that you consume and the quantity of stuff that comes into your household.
Remember, the less you bring into your home in the first place, the less likely you are to generate waste.
Reuse is, perhaps, the most important element in moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. First of all, it involves using and reusing any items that we do buy for as long as possible – extending their useful lives for as long as we can. It can also involve:
- Upcycling/ reusing food packing in your home and garden.
- Restoring/ upcycling old furniture and other household belongings to give them a new lease of life.
- Choosing second hand items rather than new ones – for example, second hand clothing. And swapping or donating our own clothing and other items that we no longer want or need.
- Reusing old fabrics/ clothing to make new clothing or soft furnishings, or, when they are no longer suitable for this, making scraps useful again by, for example, using them as cleaning rags.
- Choosing and using reclaimed materials to build and finish homes.
What we can reuse, we can keep out of the waste stream, so these things will not be placing a burden on the environment, and could even help you to go greener in other ways.
Another important element in living a zero waste lifestyle is making sure that we do not fall into the trap of disposing of something that is broken before we make an attempt to fix it. Of course, there will always be things that cannot easily be fixed by an amateur. Electronics are one obvious example.
There are, however, plenty of things that end up in landfill each year that could easily have been repaired. A mentioned above, old items can be swapped or sold, or turned into something new. But sometimes keeping something from becoming waste is as simple as making a small repair. Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle is sometimes about learning some new skills that will allow you to keep things going for longer.
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If you've been following me for more than about five minutes, you've definitely seen these boots before 👣🙈 They have probably been repaired more times than I've had birthdays🎂(okay maybe that is an exaggeration but it's close! 😳) They've had soles replaced, heels fixed, soles glued on, heels nailed on, stitches resewn, a toe cap added, a zipper replaced, and yet more gluing. They are nearly worn at the side and the hole on the toe is now pretty noticeable (the toe cap is internal but not so helpful any more). I thought the second-last time I got them fixed it would be the last time but here we are again 😃 I've definitely spent more fixing these boots than I spent buying them. And that's a good thing!👊 I've kept a pair of boots I love in use, not purchased new boots, single-handedly (almost! 😂) kept the Shoe Man (a local independent business) at Vic Park in full time work and not thrown a pair of boots in the bin!🚯✨ In the old days I'd have been eager to rush out and get new boots.🛍️ Now my satisfaction comes from squeezing every drop of life and usefulness out of these! 🗑️🚫💚 Do you have any favourite loved items you've repaired and repaired and continue to get use out of?!
Anything that we cannot refuse, reduce, reuse, or repair, we should be able to recycle. Recycling alone cannot solve the planet's waste problem. First off, there are plenty of things that cannot be, or are not usually commercially recycled. It is not enough to simply sort our recycling and leave it by the kerb. If we really want to move to a zero waste lifestyle, we have to pay more attention to what comes into our homes in the first place, rather than just what leaves it and where it goes.
Unfortunately, commercial recycling can, itself, be a rather wasteful process. It can require large amounts of energy and sometimes water. With plastic, it cannot usually be done indefinitely. Once it has been recycled and downgraded once or twice, most plastic will still end up as a waste problem. While recycling can be part of the solution to the global waste crisis, it is most definitely only a small part of the puzzle.
That said, cleaning, sorting and recycling waste that you cannot refuse, reduce, reuse or repair out of existence will also be important in moving to a zero waste lifestyle. In addition to taking advantage of commercial/ community recycling schemes in your area, it is also important to recycle at home.
The most important form or recycling you can do at home is composting, which involves turning kitchen scraps, paper, card and organic matter from your garden into a valuable material which will allow you to return nutrients to the soil and complete the natural cycles. You might also make your own recycled paper using scraps of paper and card.
When you first consider the idea of 'zero waste' it may seem like a huge challenge. But by taking things step by step, and slowly reducing the waste you produce, you will be amazed by how much difference can be made by simply taking a few steps and following the 5 'r's. You may not quite be zero waste right away – but you will have made huge leaps in the right direction.