We aren’t supposing that everyone will fit the total sum of their household waste into a single mason jar this time next year like Bea Johnson and some of the other radical pioneers of waste free living, god knows I have been a follower of these principles for many years and have NEVER managed to achieve anything close. But the truth is we all have the potential to minimize our waste footprint, and a great place to start are the 5 “R’s” of zero waste, and what better time to begin than Zero Waste Week right?
The thought that going zero waste is expensive and only for the privileged is actually a complete myth. Everyone can get involved, zero waste should be about saving money; the end result of consuming and buying less, reusing and re-purposing more should be lower impact on the planet and more pennies in your pocket!
The principles of the 5 R’s if you haven’t heard of them before are very simple; 1. Refuse what you don’t need. 2. Reduce what you do need. 3. Reuse with reusables. 4. Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse. 5. Rot (compost) all the rest.
In my experience, the first and most important step to minimizing waste is to stop the waste from entering your home and life in the first place, pre-cycling if you like.
Prevention is always better than cure, so try and make all purchases considered to start with, always food shop with a list, avoid pre-packaged foods and try to plan meals round what you have. It is also good practice before you buy anything to ask yourself some important questions… How will I use this product? Does it save me money or add value? Do I really need it?
Some of the easiest items to “Refuse” if you haven’t already cut them from your life are those everyday single-use disposables in our lives like bags, straws, cling film, cleaning wipes, cutlery, pre-packaged foods, plastic cups, disposable razors and as parents of small children perhaps disposable baby wipes, nappies and breast pads. These all have a short lifespan and a one-way ticket to the wheely bin before landfill.
Remember though, it’s not just about saying no, a big part of this process involves saying “yes”… yes to considered, sustainable purchases and lower impact goods and services that are better for the planet! “Yes” to slow fashion, to reusable, washable and package-free purchases, yes to free water refills and to cafés that accept reusable coffee cups. “Refusing” is also one of the easiest ways to save money on your Zero Waste journey, because you’ll be avoiding many unwanted purchases. According to research, Britons have £10bn worth of unworn clothes in their wardrobes and women wear just 55% of the clothes they own! Which is a truly shocking but utterly believable fact. We have all had that indispensable purchase still hanging with the tag on somewhere at the back of the wardrobe, right?
- Next up is Reduce
“Reducing” is all about minimalism. We live in a time where excess is the norm. But being clear about what you really need and generally cutting back or cutting out things you simply don’t need can be truly liberating. As Marie Kondo says “ The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of things we don’t!” This might involve donating or selling as well as using up or disposing of items that no longer have a place, reducing clutter and creating space. She also believes the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming, not the person we were in the past, so it is never too late to make the changes and become part of the solution. Mindfully reducing is an opportunity to check our own consumer habits and to assess whether they are serving your best interests and those of the planet. “Reducing” may also mean shopping with a purpose and focusing on necessary purchases that add value. Will this product help me replace an existing single use item and will it be relied upon and used day in day out, or sit at the back of the cupboard?! According to Annie Leonard, author of the Story of Stuff, only 1% of what we buy is still in use in 6 months – the rest will have been consumed or trashed. The next level in “Reducing” is replacing certain products with handmade alternatives, for example everyday cleaning products as well as cosmetics. This can be great fun and there are so many great recipes out there too online. We love these DIY beauty recipes from trashisfortossers.com the coffee scrub is amazing and perfect for me as fresh coffee is constant in our house, although making this first time didn’t go to plan!
Eventually your house and drawers will be filled with an array of reusable items that have longevity and better still won’t end up in your bin, some may even be handmade! Handkerchiefs instead of tissue, homemade gift wrap and cards, cloths instead of kitchen roll/wipes, colourful bee’s wax wraps instead of cling film, reusable razors and sanitary wear, and let’s not forget gorgeous reusable nappies and baby wipes instead of disposables 😉
Reuse by using reusables
This one is exactly what it says on the tin, a plan for switching out or at least reducing the disposable items currently in your life for lower impact reusable ones. This may be where you see the biggest outlay but over time these investments will result ultimately not only in savings for the planet, but for your family too! These items will typically more than pay for themselves, plus remember you don’t have to do it all at once. As with anything the switch can be done over a longer time and in incremental steps that you can manage personally and financially 😊 You can also consider buying some items pre-loved to keep costs down, even nappies, there are lots of second hand nappy forums out there and mostly they are well looked after. “Reuse” can also mean passing on, using up. Many families reuse their washable nappies on subsequent children or pass them along to friends and family making the cost saving even bigger. Another great way to use up waste is in the kitchen, instead of throwing leftovers or food waste away try making them into another dish, batch cook and freeze food to save it going off. The average UK household throws away £50 per month of edible food ☹and even when you have natural food waste there are lots of fun and useful things you can do with the scraps! 😊
- Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse
“Recycling” is where most people begin their Zero Waste journey, and with good reason. It’s free to do, accessible to all and easy to understand, this product in that bin, simple! So why is Recycling only number 4 on the list I hear you ask? Good question. Well unless we ultimately change habits and stop consuming and disposing as much, things will never change and we won’t slow climate change!
Recycling of course has its place but only when refusing, reducing, or reusing aren’t a possibility. It is obviously so much better than landfill, but the reality is current capabilities are still quite limited and the current system has its flaws. Many of the biggest single use offenders still can’t be processed successfully so either end up in landfill, incineration or shipped abroad! The UK should have been recycling 50% of its household waste by 2020 but rates have stalled at around 45% for the past three years. The UK throws away a staggering 295 billion pieces of plastic waste, 11 million baby wipes and 3 billion disposable nappies every year, most of which can’t be recycled. It is also estimated as much as 11% of items that we lovingly clean and sort for recycling are ending up in incinerators and as much as 60% of items earmarked for incineration are actually recyclable! ☹
Hopefully more manufacturers will move to recycled materials and consumers will dictate a more circular approach, then hopefully we can reduce the quantity of virgin materials the world consumes. Currently we consume 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic and it’s still rising. Another plus in the favour of recycled materials is efficiency, recycling aluminium is 95% more efficient than using virgin, recycled plastic 85% more efficient, paper 50%, and glass 40% including the associated transport costs so win win.
Rot everything else
The ultimate form of recycling is composting. Many of us use the green bin service for garden and household waste but you can also compost at home and surprisingly you don’t need that much space to do it. Composting can also be a wonderful thing to get your kids involved with as there is so much to learn around the science involved in turning waste into fertilizer. It is definitely worth learning as much as possible. It doesn’t have to cost you anything to set up and you can save a fortune if you are a keen gardener by making your own compost. Rachelle Strauss one of the founders of the Zero Waste Week Movement has a great book .that can help you get it right.
Hopefully you found this article interesting, Zero waste is a huge subject, and there is plenty that can be achieved for little or no money. Please add your suggestions or own success stories to the comments below so we may inspire everyone to try a more mindful lower impact Zero Waste lifestyle, regardless of household income. The Zero Waste Week movement started in 2008 with 100 or so following and now reaches more than 56 million people around the globe. You can find out more and get involved here
Close have been championing lower impact reusable alternatives for parents for more than 15 years, long before it became more fashionable 😊 Please see more of our zero waste reusable items for parents by following this link, Reusable Essentials – Close Parent
Should you have nappies you wish to pass along and donate please reach out to the UK Nappy Network Donate - UK Nappy Network