What is Zero Waste Living?

Zero waste living and the concept of zero waste is gaining in popularity all over the world, but what does it really mean? What does it involve and how do you do it?

The idea of zero waste or living a zero waste lifestyle is essentially to be able to live in such a way where you don’t create any waste at all. It covers all areas of our lives and it’s down to the individual as to how far they extend the concept. For some it might be easier to focus on one area of their lifestyle over another, whereas other people might be able to apply a zero waste lifestyle to many different areas of their life.

How hard is it to go zero waste?

If you’re familiar with Lauren Singer from the US blog Trash is for Tossers and her mason jar waste, then you’ll know that it’s possible to generate very little rubbish or waste if we really stop to think about it and change our habits in all areas of our lives. Lauren started her zero waste journey in 2012 and was able to fit 3 years of waste into a 16oz mason jar. “I do compost and recycle but only as a last resort – I try to avoid packaging at all costs,” she says.

However, for many people it can be a real challenge to apply the zero waste lifestyle to all areas of their lives, which we at Eco Passion can completely relate to, but starting that thought process can make it easier for us to change things and shift over time to a more zero waste way of life. By doing so we’ll not only generate less waste but we’ll generate less clutter in our homes too, which has many documented mental health benefits.

According to Mike Jones from A Conscious Rethink “Living a minimalist lifestyle does great things for your mental state. Minimalism gives you the time, space, clarity, and freedom to cultivate your true self and fully engage with everyday life, but it can do even more than that.” So the two concepts can go hand in hand; while trying to do right by the environment, we can also improve our everyday lives.

So where do we start?

There are so many ways to get started with a zero waste lifestyle but here’s our top picks of places to start:

  • Buy fresh produce from shops where you can take your own containers or bags

When buying fruit, veg and bread in supermarkets or smaller local shops, it’s a great idea to carry reusable bags with you, there are many types of cotton or mesh bags on the market. But what about your fresh goods like meat or cheese? Our suggestion would be to use a deli counter in your local shop that allows you to bring your own containers or bags so you don’t have to use any plastic or even waxed paper. Admittedly this is easier if you’re vegetarian or vegan! For milk you could learn how to make your own plant milk.

  • Buy from zero waste shops, refill shops or dried goods shops

Unless you live in a city or large town, this might be a tricky one, but many smaller towns do have markets where you can buy loose dried goods (such as nuts, chick peas, lentils etc.) with no packaging and no plastic. The aim is to avoid all food packaging where you possibly can, and oftentimes this means buying food like rice, pasta and grains in bulk from markets or shops that are packaging free or where you can take your own containers. If you’re lucky you might also have a shop that can refill your shampoo or cleaning products for you if you take your own containers. Check your local facebook groups for advice on where to shop zero waste (or “a granel”) in your area.

  • Carry a reusable bottle with you

Taking your own reusable bottle with you while out and about will avoid the unnecessary purchasing of drinks if you get thirsty. Many cafes and bars will now happily refill your water bottle for you and there is even an app that shows you all the places where establishments are happy to do so. Eating in at cafes and restaurants will also avoid using any disposable cups, crockery or packaging too.

  • Reuse, repurpose, repair and shop second hand

We’ve grouped these together as they all relate to the zero waste concept of not buying something you really don’t need. Can you get what you need by reusing something at home? Jars for food storage, old clothes that can be cut up and used for cloths or rags for cleaning. The possibilities are endless and you don’t need to be a pro with a sewing machine. If you have a garden or terrace there are tons of household items that can be used for growing plants from seed. Do you know a local clothes-maker who can repair your favourite clothes? Or a cobbler who can re-heel your favourite boots or shoes? And if you’re in need of a bit of retail therapy, see if you can grab a bargain at a local charity shop, or organise your own clothing swap event (when safe to do so). There are some items of course that can’t always be bought second hand, so if you’re going to buy new items that you really need then try to use ethical, ecological and plastic-free brands.

  • Recycling and composting

When striving for a truly zero waste lifestyle, you’ll need to know what you can and can’t recycle and where you can safely compost any food waste. Again, this will vary greatly depending on where you live. We visited our local recycling plant to learn more about the process of recycling and what can successfully and efficiently be recycled. Find out where yours is and contact them for more information or a chance to visit to learn more. When it comes to composting, you could try doing it at home even if you only have a terrace or balcony. There are a lot of helpful articles and videos online to help with home composting, but it can take some time to perfect. Our local recycling plant doesn’t have an industrial composting facility, so I have tried to compost at home, but I am still experimenting! Be aware that when some packaging says it can be composted or is biodegradable – this is often only at industrial levels, so it’s best to avoid it all together if you can.

  • Go plastic free in your bathroom

Packaging on cosmetics and toiletries such as bath and body products are often designed to be thrown away after use. In order to not generate this type of waste, it’s a good idea to switch to plastic-free products as these often come with very minimal packaging, if any at all. Solid soap and solid shampoos are usually only wrapped in paper or card which can be recycled, or you could learn to make your own. Some ecological markets will have stalls where you can buy solid soap or shampoo with no packaging at all, so look out for those in your area. Items like toothpaste and toothbrushes can also be plastic free. There are many natural toothpaste options available in glass jars that can be reused, and there are lots of bamboo toothbrushes to choose from these days too.

I hope these suggestions help you get started, even if it’s just thinking about the ways you can implement a zero waste lifestyle, your actions will soon follow and you can start to apply it to various areas of your lifestyle step by step. For more ideas and inspiration, take a look at our guide: 10 Steps to a More Sustainable Lifestyle