I had eight used coffee cups sitting in my recycling bin at work.
I was reading an article about the current zero waste trend that was sweeping through the world when I read their suggestion to take stock of my current waste. That was when I saw the eight coffee cups purchased only because I had a crush on my local barista.
I was horrified. I am a vegan who strongly believes in doing things to benefit the Earth and the environment, but I wasn’t putting my money where my mouth was in terms of the trash I generated. So I started digging and researching. I discovered people like this who fit four years worth of trash in one tiny compartment. I discovered that in 2007, it was reported that each person in Australia generated 2,100kgs of waste. I also learnt the horrifying truth that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
I resolved then and there to make my carbon footprint, and to do more than just saying no to plastic straws at the bar. But on my journey I picked up a few things that were extremely helpful and which may just help you.
It doesn’t happen overnight
Moving into a zero-waste lifestyle, or even a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, doesn’t happen overnight. It will take some time to start collecting glass containers instead of the plastic ones you have floating around in a drawer, as well as using up all of the baking paper, cling wrap, and plastic sandwich bags that may be still present. Because you decide to wake up one moment and live plastic-free doesn’t mean you should instantly dump all of your plastic belongings. Use them and see them through to the end, and then replace it with glass jars, containers, and other sustainable goods.
It will take a while, but getting the full use out of an item instead of simply throwing it away is the best way to ensure environmental sustainability. And when you do get rid of it – make sure you do so responsibly!
Do your research
There is more to waste than simply deciding whether something goes in the landfill bin and what goes in the yellow recycling bin, especially when it comes to items such as batteries, computer equipment, toys, blankets and towels.
If some of these things are good quality, donating items or gifting them to friends is a great way to get rid of the unwanted items cluttering up your house, but you can also look into who needs what and why. There are many charities that give blankets to people who may be homeless, old towels can be given to animal shelters, and childcare centres love getting unwanted toys.
ALDI has proper recycling bins if you want to get rid of old batteries, and some computer stores are happy to take electronics for spare parts. Do your research to find what is near you.
Only buy what you need
Living minimally and cutting down on your waste means only getting what you need and will use, as opposed to buying in bulk. In fact, I have so little food in my house that my friends wonder why I even have a fridge to begin with – it’s that empty! I buy the food and ingredients that I need for the week, and try not to buy any more until it runs out, meaning that I am saving money, waste, and space!
I started shopping at bulk produce stores and bought the ingredients I needed (and only needed) in glass jars I had brought with myself that I recycled from other jarred foods. I starting using sustainable cotton bags when buying salad or mushrooms instead of plastic or paper ones. Again, buying these cotton bags or amassing glass jars will take time, but once you start using it you will be amazed and how long-lasting these products are, and how much better for the environment shopping like this is.
Put your money where your mouth is
When you do go out and buy the items you need, make sure you buy them sustainably.
Supporting local businesses that put emphasis on important environmental issues is a great way to show you care about the way your clothes are made, how much packaging is utilised, if animals are harmed when they make the cosmetics you buy, and how much the wages are in the people who invest their time and effort into making you that particular item.
Buying produce from your local markets is a great way to ensure quality and freshness, and buying other items from smaller organic sustainable stores is also a great way to put your money where your mouth is. But there is more you can do to shop sustainably.
Shop brands that create lasting products and don’t harm the earth. You can find symbols like the little rabbit or plant symbol, which will signify a cruelty-free product. Even though it doesn’t seem like what you buy is doing much to impact the environment, every cent given to sustainable and environmentally-conscious companies is a chance at growing a more environmentally-friendly world.
Add to the environment by composting
One of the biggest projects I started undertaking was the act of composting. As a vegan, there is generally a lot of fruits and vegetables incorporated into my daily diet, so I bought myself a tin compost bin and started putting my food scraps in there.
However, I wasn’t fully prepared to buy myself a big compost bin, get some worms, and use it for gardening. That just wasn’t me. I have no green thumb, I don’t own the house I live in, I’m lazy, and I hate worms. So while composting is great for the environment it just didn’t fit in with myself or my lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean my food scraps can’t be of benefit!
I actually did a lot of research and found that a community garden near my work had a public composting unit. It was a perfect solution as it meant I was sending less to landfill, was helping out my local community garden, and it was an easy way to get rid of food scraps that didn’t involve me keeping a tub of worms in my backyard. Win-win!
My move into being zero waste is still a process. I’ve only got a few glass containers and still have plastic ones in my drawers, and I honestly don’t think I could move to using menstrual cups or reusable sanitary products (though I will start considering that special underwear). But I’ve started thinking about particular items that I purchase and am making conscious decisions to buy smarter, buy sustainably, and buy environmentally-friendly. Every journey is different, and I am in it for the long haul! We only have one earth. We need to take care of it.