A year and a half ago, we wrote an article on Zero Waste.
It listed a LOT of scary stats that convinced us that the Zero Waste movement is real (and necessary, now even the law-makers are taking it seriously). So, we decided to start our own hyper aware journey to a life without plastic and generally lower waste.
Since then we wrote a bunch more articles on the subject. For our own benefit and to give others some inspiration. Here’s the ever-growing list!
- Our Zero Waste Plan: A Simple Beginner’s Guide to Going Zero Waste
- Zero Waste Shampoo and Conditioners For Waste Fee and Sustainable Locks
- 5 Stupidly Easy Zero Waste Swops
- Zero Waste Travel: Our Tips, Tricks and Hacks For Living Life On the Road
- 16 Thoughtful Zero Waste Gift Ideas For Greener Living
- Zero Waste Toilet Paper: Wait…What!?
- Kitchen Compost Bin: For A Waste Free Household
- 8 Zero Waste Toothpastes To Sink Your Teeth Into
- Building a Zero Waste Kit: (Almost) Everything You Need To Start Living Sustainably
- Zero Waste Deodorant Ideas For Sweet Smelling Sustainable Pits
- 7 Zero Waste Makeup Options For Glamming Up And Going Green
As you can tell we have a fair bit to say on the subject. But what’s really great is that once you start the journey you realize that you can adjust (with very little effort) most if not all facets of your lifestyle to cut down waste. Which includes plastic and a lot of it!
So how did we do? This article serves as a check in for us. To pat ourselves on the back for our progress, for staying the course and to top up our enthusiasm in areas where we’ve totally failed!
Here’s a list of the things we did to smash our waste generation (and plastic generation) by at least 70% with really, very little additional effort or impact on our lives:
Composting essentially means to convert food scraps / waste into soil again (the circle of life 🙂 ).
For us, this has absolutely been the number one (and easiest) hack to reduce the sheer volume of trash we throw out every week (and the plastic bags that come with that trash).
We’ve previously dabbled in composting but because we’ve been somewhat nomadic over the last 10 years, we struggled to get into a proper composting routine. We eat A LOT of fresh fruit and veg so the peels, ends, bits and bobs all ended up in the rubbish. Which is BAD because in a landfill food waste releases methane, which as we know, contributes significantly to global warming.
In the beginning of our journey (when we were living in London), we were super lucky in that our local council collected and composted our food waste for us. Every. Single. Week. #Firstworld. All we had to do is separately collect the food scraps in a compostable liner (we use one of these to help) and popped it out on the street for collection.
Since then, we’ve moved back to Melbourne and now are ‘composting pros’. At least in our own eyes! We have two bokashi bins (which we rotate), a bunch containers for extra food waste and a mini worm farm. All in our kitchen and little balcony. Apartment winning with zero plastic! And any excess food waste that are worms can’t eat we take to a local compost collection point.
If you’re new to composting, here are some Kitchen Composting Options, a 101 on Apartment Composting, a list of the Benefits of Composting and how you can even use Worm Tea (from your worm farm) as a super fertilizer for house plants and more.
We’re aware that not everyone has the space or luxury to do this but here are some other options that might work for you:
- Some councils offer communal collections (a big bin in your neighbourhood)
- Check out your local interwebs for information on how to find these (for example, Recycle Now in the UK has a recycle locator)
- Some farmers’ markets accept food waste scraps
Again, in the beginning of our journey we would trundle along to the local farmers’ market. It was a Saturday morning ritual which we loved! Here’s our more detailed account of why we LOVE farmers’ markets and the many reasons why you should visit yours.
In a nutshell, here’s how it contributed to our winning the ‘life without plastic and waste’ game:
- First, farmers bring their delicious goods direct from the farm. This means we’re buying healthy local produce and minimizing all that commercial waste generated through a “normal” supply chain.
- Secondly, the farmers and stall holders are willing to package up their raw goods straight into my produce bags and containers without plastic packaging. For those that can’t, we just reuse their own packaging each week and it works perfectly well for the most part.
Now that we’re back in Australia, we order our weekly supply of fresh fruit and veg from a organic and local growers through Ceres. The social enterprise that supports Victorian farmers, employees asylum seekers, uses compostable and returnable boxes (i.e. zero plastic) and who use their profits to teach adults and kids about how to take care of our planet!
I’ve already alluded to this above, we’ve been using calico shopping and produce bags for grocery shopping. They’re easy to find online and you can typically buy them at a good supermarket. I found our cute little numbers on Etsy: produce bags and Hipster Giraffe tote.
We also re-use the plastic bags we’ve accumulated, over and over again before recylcing them (luckily our local council can recycle them). Annoyingly, we haven’t always got all this right (see the “losing” section below) so plenty of room for improvement. It’s all about changing your habits!
This is probably the most recommended zero waste tip around. It’s also one of the easiest habits to adopt. And the impact of opting for a re-usable cup cannot be understated. The sheer volume of waste created by single-use plastic bottles and coffee cups is, as you know, enormous.
We carry our little stainless steel drinking bottle with us whenever there’s a chance we might end up having to buy something (e.g. travelling, exercise). We do tend to leave it behind for day to day life as we typically have access to glasses / cafes etc.
We are coffee nuts. So, addressing coffee re-usables has been important to us. While we don’t get take away coffees all that often, now that we’re uber aware we just take our own cup OR sit down, smell the roses (or coffee) and enjoy!
This strategy has worked for the most part. We found that buying a really nice re-usable cup, like a Frank Green or Hydroflask goes a long way to making this change as easy (and enticing) as possible.
Ive done it! I was actually rather nervous of this one (for obvious reasons) but I did it and its totally fine… in fact it is so much better! It has made life a lot more simple – I literally need to carry only the mooncup with me which is a godsend when I travel.
I can’t believe I never got into this earlier. I would encourage my female friends out there to give it a go! If you still need convincing, this video from Kate Arnell convinced me it was a good idea and I’m glad I listened. From what I’ve read on the interwebs there are a ton of different “cup” options (shapes and sizes) out there.
If you’re thinking of trying it, I went for the Mooncup given the aforementioned video but it’s worth trying different brands if a cup doesn’t immediately gel with you. Make sure you also read the guidance and get the right size.
When it comes to floss though, there’s no silver, SILVER bullet as yet. Though something had to be done (many of us animal lovers have seen the horrendous image of a seal with some nylon floss wrapped around it’s neck – haunting!). I’ve read so many articles and this one from Wasteland Rebel was the most informative.
Given ease of access and price, we initially opted for WooBamboo’s silk floss as the floss itself is compostable and they’ve come up with a clever design where the outer packaging is also the container. Saving at least one piece of plastic. Bear in mind though, this is not a vegan (or an entirely cruelty free option) but it is much better than regular floss.
Now we’re using georganics silk floss. It’s not cheap. But the silk is only taken from discarded cocoons and the floss comes in a small glass jar. Refills come in compostable packaging. This is probably the best zero waste flossing option out there. So we think the price is worth it. Otherwise, WasteLand Rebel, recommends some other alternatives:
These are such interesting little guys. They’re dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap. It’s quite incredible how well they work. We pop them into the little bag they come with, add some essential oils to make them smell good and throw them in the machine with the laundry.
They’re also super handy for travel, you don’t have to carry bulky liquid or powder – 6 little nuts should get you through 1-2 weeks (depending on your household washing needs). The nuts are also reusable – you can mulch them up and use them as a household / pet cleaner. After that, they’re compostable. A zero-waste cleaning alternative! We’ve been using the Living Naturally brand which works great.
Sounds like we’re on a roll, right? Right!? Sort of…
We’ve come a long way from our former consumeristic ways! But despite our significant improvements we’ve failed in other areas for various reasons:
Even with our uber anti-plastic focus, we’ve been caught out several times, for example:
- Sitting in the cafe to drink our coffee and assuming it will be served in a glass cup or mug. Starbucks is a good example. It almost always comes out in a takeaway coffee cup – this has happened a number of times, always when we’re in a rush and don’t think to check! We are getting better!
- Similarly, ordering a smoothie at a cafe and realising too late that it comes in a plastic container with a straw.
- Forgetting to ask for no bleeping straw!! Or asking for no straw while awkwardly trying to explain why, ultimately confusing the person and ending up with a straw! Though, restaurants and coffee shops are becoming more aware of this with some even have a ‘no-straw’ policy or offering steel straws.
- Being handed packaged goods on planes and taking them, without thinking!
There’s been a number of completely avoidable situations where we’ve ended up consuming plastic including:
- Forgetting our reusable bags / backpack when heading to the supermarket. This doesn’t happen often these days, especially since we order our food to a central delivery location. But we’re still not perfect and have been caught out!
- Knowing that we’ll have to eat on the go and not taking food / water / snacks with us – thus ending up buying food on the go, which always comes in plastic or styrofoam.
Some things come to mind as obvious fixes. Many we haven’t addressed yet because we either haven’t developed the right habits or because we haven’t figured out alternatives:
- Takeaways: In the beginning we had a terrible habit of Friday night takeaways (read: copious amounts of plastic) + Netflix documentaries. Now, if we’re getting takeaways, it’ll be pizza in a compostable pizza box. Or we’ll just head out to the restaurant instead (and then watch Netflix).
- Dress ups: This was a big issue with a lot of dress up parties that seemed to be part of our culture. You would either use a single use outfit, renting an expensive costume or make something (if you’re super organized, unlike us). I’d love to say we’ve done the latter but we’ve ended up with some annoying costumes that will probably never see the light of day again. Having said that, we have visited the thrift store for some options which is a much better solution. I’m trying to convince my workplace to allow a dress up library so we can reuse old costumes, it’s a work in progress!
- Online shopping: We lead such busy lives and ordering online is so convenient and easy. Amazon has some sustainability initiatives as do many other retailers, but it’s still not ideal or nearly as good as buying locally from bulk providers. I’m not sure yet how to solve this one but we’re definitely buying much more in bulk from zero waste stores to reduce the number of parcels. We are, of course, also being careful about who we buy from (as is evident by what we do here at Sustainable Jungle) to minimize impact as much as possible.
Looking back, it’s feels really good. Like soulful good. We’ve achieved a lot. And we’re proud to say that. It would be so interesting to know how much plastic (and other waste) we’ve saved in that time.
Of course, this is a journey and there’s many other areas that we’re excited to explore. We have so much more to achieve in our quest for a life without plastic and waste.
Importantly, we know there’s no such thing as perfection. We’re on the scale somewhere, along with everyone else. The trick is, it’s about taking the first step, and then another and then another and suddenly you’re a year and a half down and you’re lifestyle has done a 180 hand break turn for the better.
We’re going to continue to experiment and improve through positive habits that reduce our waste as much as possible. If you have any thoughts / comments / ideas that you’d like to share please do… we always love a good zero waste story ?