I’ve been slowly transitioning to a more zero waste lifestyle (with a lot of bumps along the way), but some of the biggest tips I’ve learnt have been…
My journey to zero-waste all started with going vegan. After learning about the harmful impact mass animal agriculture is having on the planet, among many other reasons, I went vegan. But, I wanted to go a step further and reduce my plastic use as well.
These are a few of the changes I’ve made over the past two years to live more low-waste – I’m working towards living completely zero-waste – and be more sustainable. This is what I’ve learnt so far…
Zero-Waste Tips I’ve learnt Along the Way…
A lot of these things are super easy to do, it just takes a small amount of commitment at the start. Like with anything new, there is always an adjustment period, but trust me, once you’ve done it a few times, it starts to feel “normal” and becomes second nature. Obviously, don’t feel like you have to do everything on this list. Switching to a zero-waste lifestyle takes time, and is a journey that everyone takes differently. There is always more than one way of doing something.
If I could only name one thing that would be the most important thing you could do, it would be to reduce your consumption and be a more conscious consumer; making mindful choices with your dollar to help support a more sustainable world.
1. Compost Food Scraps
Composting is one of the BEST ways we can recycle our food scraps without sending them to landfill. It breaks down into an organic, natural fertiliser you can use on your garden, and helps reduce the amount of methane emissions produced from food scraps breaking down in landfill (which is an anaerobic environment, and the bacteria that breaks down these foods create methane).
In Australia, over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill. So by swapping to composting to dispose of your food waste, it can have a real impact on the planet.
2. Make Stock with Food Scraps
To do this, collect up all the scraps from your veggies; onion peels, garlic peels, bits of carrot, zucchini, cucumber. any type of vegetable that would be put into your compost, or that you feel could be reused to make a veggie stock. Collect them in a container and store them in your freezer. Keep them in the freezer until you’ve filled the container to the top, then pop all the food scraps into a saucepan with some filtered water and seasonings, and let it cook for 2-4 hours. No added preservatives, salts or sugars, and it’s plastic packaging-free!
3. Recycle Soft Plastics
This isn’t exactly “zero-waste”, it’s more of a low-waste tip, but I’ve found it to be such a game-changer in terms of reducing the amount of plastic you’re throwing away to landfill. Not all of us are able to completely transition over to a plastic-free, zero-waste lifestyle, so if you are still receiving products wrapped in plastics, or are given plastic items, it may be possible for you to recycle them.
REDcycle is a company in Australia that takes soft plastics and recycles them into things like benches, decking, signage, and more using the recovered REDcycle plastic as a resource. Note that not all soft plastics can be recycled, and they do have a list on their website you can refer to of what can and can’t be recycled. Soft plastics are basically plastics that you can scrunch.
4. Making Your Own Products
This has definitely been my one of my favourite parts of living more low-waste. I absolutely love making my own products and DIYs, I find it so much fun and it’s been a great way to reduce the amount of waste I’d usually throw away from products packaged in wasteful single-use plastic. Plus it’s also helped me to reduce the toxin load on my body through making alternative, more natural, eco-friendly products. These are some of the DIYs and natural products I’ve made so far: natural toothpaste, oil cleanser, hair dye, magnesium oil, natural deodorant, calendula cream, hand sanitiser, shampoo, bug spray, sugar scrub cubes, lip balm, and more.
One of the biggest powers we hold as consumers is how and what we spend our dollar on. It’s something we can control, that’s why I love making my own natural products, as I have the choice of what exactly goes into them.
5. Making Your Own Food Products
Similar to the tip above, but instead of personal care and cleaning products, this one involves making your own food and beverages. A lot of the pre-prepared food items we buy from supermarkets nowadays almost always come packaged in plastic. Yoghurts, muffins, milks, nuts, seeds, veggies, chocolate, ice-cream, breads, pastries, etc. But worse than the plastic packaging is the additives, preservatives, sugars and trans fats found in these products.
Making your own yoghurt and milk can help reduce plastic waste and eliminate any unhealthy additives and sugars. Plus, if you order your nuts and seeds from the bulk foods store – where they package their items completely plastic-free – you make the whole process of making recipes waste-free!
6. Organic Sustainable Gardening
This is a new one for me, as I only started my garden midway through last year. I’ve been learning as I go, and I’ve had my fair share of mistakes and failures along the way. But the satisfaction you get when you pick fresh broccoli or kale from your garden to use in soups, smoothies, or roast veggies is just… Wow. I use compost as a natural fertiliser.
For pest control I use natural DIY sprays, other plants that deter bugs, substances like diatomaceous earth, egg shells, and more. As a sustainable practice, I’ve been looking into collecting the seeds from some of my plants once they go to seed, which I then store and plant in my garden the following season.
7. Local Markets
Purchasing your groceries and products from local markets not only supports local farmers and businesses, but also reduces greenhouse emissions as the food isn’t transported as far. Plus, food can be picked riper, meaning more nutrients have been delivered to the food. You can also buy organic produce and pick them up in your own produce bags, and the food is often cheaper. What’s more, you support smaller farms who are less likely to have monoculture crops and factory farming practices.
8. Biking to Work and Local Cafés
Instead of hopping in the car and driving short distances, why not ride? It will not only improve you overall health and fitness, but help reduce emissions. Plus, if you’re biking to your favourite local café, think how much that coffee will mean to you buy the end!
9. Purchase Sustainably and Ethically Made clothing
When I purchase any clothing (which isn’t often), I opt for sustainably-made, ethically-made clothing, made from organic materials – like hemp, bamboo, etc. – or recycled items like plastic. We have immense power as consumers: We choose where our dollar goes. I usually purchase clothes from places like Wolven Threads or second-hand op shops.
I”’ often get given clothing, too, from cousins and friends, so I rarely need to purchase anything new. If you do purchase items with cotton in them, make sure to opt for ones made from organic cotton, as conventional cotton is one of the world’s largest pesticide consumers. Although it’s only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all insecticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide.
In Australia, we’ve been having problems with our cotton farmers (not all, just some) drawing out water from local ecosystems, rivers, and streams to use on their crops when water has been scarce. This has caused these streams and other bodies of water to dry up completely, or become contaminated affecting local fish species and other native wildlife who use these streams as water sources.
A quote that I heard from Ethically Kate that I just loved (it summed up consumerism in a nutshell) was, ‘Go organic. Go fair trade. Go ethically-made.’
Words to live by.
10. Collecting and Reusing Old Hair Ties
Whenever I find a hair tie lying on the ground, left and forgotten, I collect it up, take it home, wash it, and use it as my own! I tell you, it’s such a great money saver. I’m that person who’ll go out and buy a new pack of 20 hair ties and lose 19 of them in the first week. Collecting up hair ties means I haven’t had to buy any of my own for about a year now. If you find those plastic spirally ones, you can boil them to re-tighten and they’re good as new again! You can even make your own hair bands. To sum it up in one breath (cause I know you don’t have all day to read this post):
It’s such a great zero-waste idea! I swear once you’ve done this you’ll have a life’s supply of hair ties, even if you lose them all the time like I do.
11. Making Your Own Natural Hair Dyes
Rather than using harsh, chemical-filled hair dyes that not only damage our luscious locks but wash polluting toxic chemicals down our drains and into our waterways, instead we can make our own!
I’ve dyed my hair using turmeric, given highlights to my hair using apple cider vinegar, used beet juice to dye my hair purple, and even dyed my hair red with henna. There are heaps of other natural ways to dye hair, without the chemicals.
12. Regrow Vegetables from Scraps
I tried this out last year and just loved it! I regrew carrots, bok choy, garlic, onion, fennel, cabbage, spring onions, and celery. There are so many different veggies you can regrow. Once some of the veggies are big enough, you can transplant them into soil, or simply leave them in the container of water and have an endless supply of veggies to pick from.
13. Refuse Unsustainable Products
Products containing palm oil is a big one. I have an app on my phone called Palm Oil Scanner, and I use it to scan the barcodes of products to check if they have palm oil hidden in them. Marketers can be quite sneaky, and label palm oil under a different name like “vegetable oil”, so it can be helpful to have a scanner like this to double check.
Making your own products can be another way to help reduce the risk of accidentally buying products containing palm oil. This oil is very harmful to our planet and rainforest ecosystems, where vast areas of native forests are cut down/burned/cleared away to make room for palm oil plantations. Even sustainable palm oil I’m still iffy about. I believe there are many other alternatives to using palm oil, so I choose avoid it completely, but sustainable palm oil I do agree is better than unsustainable, however I just avoid any type of palm oil in my products.
Why are avocados on this list? Here’s why.
I learnt this tip from Gittemary Johansen in one of her videos, and was surprised to hear that avocados, if not sourced mindfully, can be quite impactful on the planet. Avocados have become quite the “trendy” food, and because of this their demand has skyrocketed. Gittemary mentioned that a lot of avocados are sourced from Mexico, where they’re often grown in monocrops and require vast amounts of blue water to grow.
Blue water comes from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, and is what is commonly used to irrigate crops on farmland. Green water is the water held in the soil and available to plants, while grey water is water that has been used for washing dishes, laundering clothes, or bathing. In her book, The Great Plant-Based Con, Jayne Buxton shares how ‘It’s estimated that growing a single avocado can take anything from 140-272 litres of water.’ In regions like Chile, Mexico, Spain and California where freshwater is in short supply, avocado crops put enormous strain on the local environment.
Monocropping causes big problems on the soil and surrounding ecosystems. It’s very unnatural to grow one type of crop on the same land year after year. This strips the soil of its nutrients and can cause soil erosion and eventually lead to barren soil. What’s more, it promotes the spread of pests and diseases which must be treated with yet more chemicals. Monocropping also alters the natural ecosystems around it, requires lots of water to irrigate, pollutes groundwater, and uses a lot of fossil fuel energy (among other things). So, if you can, source avocados locally and buy seasonal.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
What are some low-waste ideas that you’ve added into your daily life? How did you find transitioning to more of a low-waste lifestyle? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Patterson, Susan. (Updated: 06/04/20). What Is Monocropping: Disadvantages Of Monoculture In Gardening. Gardening Know How. Retrieved from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/environmental/monoculture-gardening.htm#:~:text=Monocropping%20also%20creates%20the%20spread,or%20become%20airborne%2C%20creating%20pollution
What is Monoculture?. Conserve, Energy, Future. Retrieved from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/advantages-disadvantages-examples-monoculture.php
Food Waste Facts. Oz Harvest. Retrieved from https://www.ozharvest.org/what-we-do/environment-facts/#:~:text=The%20Government%20estimates%20food%20waste,groceries%20per%20household%20each%20year
Buxton, Jayne. (2022). The Great Plant-Based Con. Piatkus. Carmelite House, 50 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DZ. Great Britain. Print.