The idea of living entirely waste-free takes time to adapt, as our daily life is so used to consuming and disposing of waste without any regard. The endless cycle of consumerism will leave a lasting impact on our ecosystem unless you take a conscious approach to your consumer choice. You will do yourself a lot of favours if you adopt a zero-waste lifestyle while saving your money from unnecessary purchases.
What is zero waste?
Zero waste is waste prevention and management strategy that is gradually picking up popularity among individuals as well as industries, communities and businesses. The idea is to imitate sustainable natural cycles where all disposable materials are designed to become resources for other uses which will themselves become reserves for other uses and so on. The goal is to ensure nothing is transported to landfills or incinerators in the future.
Zero waste aims to lessen resource use, usage of recycled or less impactful materials, longer product lives, reparability, product sharing and restoration of materials from products reaching its shelf life. For the masses, zero waste involves gradually striving to reduce trash by avoiding unnecessary products or packaged goods, single-use items such as straws and plastic cutlery, composting, considering full product lifecycle and becoming more mindful consumers overall.
How to get started?
If you want to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle, the best way is to take a step at a time. The big questions, what am I throwing away? You need to start being more meticulous of what you are disposing into the garbage and recycling bins. Follow-up by determining one item that you generally discard away and can be easily replaced with a reusable item, for example, using a travel mug instead of a paper cup.
As you make changes every step, you will find yourself thinking about a home composting setup, purchasing food in bulk, skipping free samples (that comes with packaging), taking the initiative to dispose of junk mail and obtaining various reusable stuff to substitute disposable items. Keep in mind that every step is only as viable as your desire to retain the lifestyle within the long term. Take for instance buying a reusable silverware for use outside from home will not be beneficial if you stop using it after a few times. Always ask yourself ahead before purchasing a new item if it is essential or there is something that you already own or buying secondhand stuff.
There are three basic aspects you need to consider:
- How convenient it is for you
- How expensive in time or money it may be for you
- The environmental impact your choice will make
Simply/declutter your home by donating and recycling as much as you can. Think twice for every new or old item that you want to donate to avoid regretting and repurchase again. Start with utilising reusable bags and containers and avoid packaged stuff such as styrofoam or flimsy plastics. When you purchase materialistic stuff, aim for quality and longevity to avoid repurchasing similar items in the future. Any mail that is intended to a previous tenant, write a note to clarify “No longer at this address, please return to sender” and post it back. Contact magazines or banks to stop receiving them in the mail.
Handy tips for daily life
To make the most impact in reducing personal waste is in transporting items:
- Plastic shopping bags can be substitute with reusable cotton or hemp bags which are generally available for purchase or for free as promotional items. You can consider using old cloth items(for example T-shirts) and convert them into drawstring bags. These bags can be washed and reused for years. Produce bags can be replaced by thin cotton or mesh bags. You can even make your own from bulk lightweight fabric or from pillowcases.
- Keep in mind that a plastic bag can be reused as they are the least environmental impact per-number of times used.
- Try to make it a habit to store these bags in your vehicle or placed right near your doorway so you don’t forget to use them.
- While shopping, consider carrying an extra stainless steel container just in case you need to pack leftovers after dining. Most importantly, convenience is the top priority in making it a lasting change.
- Bring along a water bottle or vacuum bottle. Get a reusable stainless steel bottle or a travel mug, fill it up with water before heading out. Stainless steel is the most recyclable followed by plastic and glass. It is best to avoid using reusable plastic or aluminium bottles. Plastics are known to leach chemicals into the water and aluminium bottles are lined with epoxy resin will result with similar effects.
- Keep a set of reusable dishes and cutlery handy at work and/or on the go.
- Stop or reduce the intake of sodas, juices and other plastic-bottled drinks. Same applies to frozen convenience foods as the trays are made of cardboard is still lined with plastic.
- Buy fresh bread that comes in either paper bags or your own personal container. Despite being slightly pricey compared to the plastic-packaged, it is worth spending a little bit more for plastic-free food.
- Look for stores or markets that sell food from bulk bins that allow you to use your own bags or containers. Most dry foods and personal care products are sold in bulk bins. These foods include rice, other grains, pasta, beans, seeds, nuts, flour, baking soda, other baking ingredients, cereal, granola, pretzels, chips, candy, tofu, oils, nut butter, olives, herbs, tea, coffee and more!
- Use hand wash dishes that are plastic free by opting for baking soda or bar soap. Same applies when you are taking a bath, replaced liquid soaps with bar soaps. Instead of using plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges for bathing, get yourself a natural cleaning cloth as a substitute.
- Volunteer to place a small bin and take organic food scraps to be composted. Look up for community gardens as they are more than willing to have your compost and remember to ask beforehand.
- Volunteer to collect items for iCYCLE Malaysia recycling.
- Sort out disposables that have reusable alternatives and push your company to make a change. Make a point that adopting these practices so there is a social payoff to the greater expense.
- Other aspects to consider at your workplace – Utilise post-consumer recycled paper for printing and for packaging. Reduce intake or avoid instant coffee packaging and instead replace it with a communal coffee pot. Bring home cook food more frequently to lessen the need to eat outside.
Neighbourhood and Community
- Meet up with neighbours to start a community garden or compost waste.
- Set up micro-libraries, to swap books you no longer want or need. You can also consider donating books to your local libraries.
- Local coffee shops are a great place to collect free coffee grounds for community gardens.
- Plain, brown corrugated cardboard(remove any stickers and staples) can be used as a biodegradable weed block for community gardens. Composting takes no energy compared to recycling which is energy and water intensive.
- Reach out to independent grocery stores about providing packaging-free bulk items.
- Volunteer in helping out with the food bank to get more people and businesses to donate unwanted food to reduce food waste.
- Look out what items local charities and nonprofits have a constant need for. For instance, animal rescues can use clean towels, rags, sheets, and blankets. Most non-profits would appreciate having old but still functional computers, laptops or printers.
Alternatives for common plastic items
- Plastic is terrible at degrading and the pieces can be harmful to the natural habitat. Most plastic wastes are not good material unless it is not harmful to humans if consumed. To get started here are some of the items that can replace common plastics:
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with bamboo(which is antibacterial) or non-plastic bristles(nylon). This helps create less waste as this toothbrush can be composted or disposed of in a landfill.
- Utilise steel containers that are insulated such as RTIC, Yeti and any similar products.
- Stop using plastic straws completely and replace with stainless steel or bamboo made straws.
- Use wooden phone cases as they are far more ecological than plastic accessories.
- Most portable speakers and headphones are made out of plastic. Consider getting wooden covered headphones or Bluetooth speakers that are not covered over plastics.
- Soap, toothpaste and trash bins have steel or wood made storages which are great for replacing the plastic ones.
- Office items such as hole punch, staples, tape dispensers, pencil sharpeners can all be purchased made of metal and wood. Brooms made of real fibre are good alternatives and avoid purchasing cleaning tools with plastic handles. For a desk lamp, get a metal or wooden made that are not entirely made from plastic elements besides the switch and the cable.
If you wish to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle, just commit to one change a week! Start with steps that you feel that is doable, gradually the momentum will allow you to perceive all the practices in your life and the change in your lifestyle will come naturally. Leave us your thoughts or suggestions on the comment sections below. Head over to Jobstore.com and unveil your next job opportunity.
You Jing is a content writer who writes career and lifestyle contents to inspire job seekers and employers alike on their journey to work-life balance, empowerment and transformation in their career path.
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