I’ve been living more of a low-waste lifestyle these past couple of years, it all started with my journey of going vegan. After learning about the harmful impact mass animal agriculture is having on our planet, among many other reasons, I went vegan. But I wanted to go a step further, and reduce my plastic waste as well!
I started learning as much as I could on ways to live more eco-friendly, and waste-free, some of my favourite influencers being Plastic Free Mermaid, Simple(ish) Living, and Going Zero Waste (on Instagram).
From left to right: Kathryn Kellogg (founder of Going Zero Waste), Kate Nelson (founder of Plastic Free Mermaid), and Cat (founder of Simple(ish) Living).
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 move more towards a sustainable lifestyle. 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, and a lot of time there is more than one option.
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.
- 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 being broken down in landfill (which is often an anaerobic environment and the bacteria that breaks these foods down 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 (for the better) on the planet.
- Make stock with food scraps
Another alternative, if you aren’t able to compost or want to use up your food scraps rather than throw them away, is to turn your food scraps into a stock! To do this, simply collect up the scraps from your veggies; onion peels, garlic peels, bits of carrot, zucchini, cucumber, basically ANY type of vegetable that I would put into my compost, or that I feel could be reused to make a veggie stock, I collect in a glass jar that I store in my freezer (feel free to use a stainless steel or plastic container if you’re worried about the jar cracking/breaking due to the temperature change of going from hot to freezing cold all the time when you’re taking it in and out). I keep it in the freezer until I’ve filled it to the top, then I pop all the food scraps into a saucepan with some filtered water, sea salt and seasonings, and let it cook until a broth has formed! What’s great is that I know exactly what’s in the stock, so no added preservatives, salts, sugars, etc. make their way into it (that are often found in store-bought, pre-made versions, and it’s plastic packaging-free! As those bouillon cubes and pre-made stocks are often packaged in disposable, single-use plastics.
I originally got this idea from Cat (a.k.a Simple(ish) Living – both these photos are from her Insta page), and I just loved the idea of freezing the stock in cube trays afterwards, for individual serving sizes and a way to keep it fresh for longer!
- 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 (just yet, anyway 😉 ), so if you are still receiving products wrapped in plastics, or get 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 much more using the recovered REDcycle plastic as a resource. Now, 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 (if you’re ever in doubt of what counts as “soft.” Here’s a quick guide I wrote on how to recycle soft plastics.
- Making your own products
This has definitely been my favourite part 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, as well as has been a big way I reduce the toxin load on my body, through making alternative, more natural, eco-friendly products. These are all of the DIYs and natural products I’ve made so far (I have many more ideas coming!!), some of which include my natural toothpaste, oil cleanser, hair dye, magnesium oil, natural deodorant, lip balm, etc. One of the biggest powers we hold as a consumer is how & what we spend our dollar on. It’s something we can control, that’s why I love making my own natural, eco-friendly products, as I have the choice of what exactly goes into them.
A few of the natural products I’ve made (I try and use old containers and jars to store my homemade products in, to avoid purchasing new ones). From top to bottom: hand sanitiser, calendula cream, calendula oil, sugar scrub cubes, oily hair shampoos, bug repellent.
- Making your own food products
Similar to the tip I mentioned above, however, instead of personal care & 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 they’re packed in is the additives, preservatives, sugars, slats, and trans fats often found in pre-made items. Making your own yoghurt and milk can help reduce plastic waste AND eliminate any unhealthy additives and sugars that can often be found in products like these. 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 plant milks waste-free!!
Some of the food items I’ve made from scratch (rather than purchase from the store due to being packaged in plastic, or to avoid nasty additives, excess sugars, and other unhealthy ingredients. From top to bottom: cashew cheese, choc chip cookies, keto lemon cakes, macadamia milk, calendula shortbread.
- 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! (no words can describe 😉 ). For a full run-through or how I garden organically + sustainably, see here. But to give a you quick summary of it all, I use compost as a natural fertiliser, for pest control I use natural DIY sprays, other plants that deter bugs, substances like diatomaceous earth, and more. As a sustainable practice, I’ve been looking into collecting the seeds from some of my plants once they go to seed, to then plant in my garden (this is a great way to know for sure that the seeds were collected from organically grown plants). I’ll share a post about exactly how to do this in the near future, as well as how to make your own seaweed fertiliser (this will have your plants growing like crazy – they love it!).
I’ve basically been living in my garden for the past 2 years 😉 It’s become one of my favourite pastimes, and I’ve been learning so much about ways to garden organically (especially when it comes to insects and pests). Top left we have my new citrus tree I planted a few months ago; next to it is my small herb garden out the front where I’ve set up a diatomaceous earth boarder around it to keep snails and slugs away; under that is a small container of mandarins I collected from our tree (it’s just come to the end of mandarin season now, and we’ve had such a great haul from our tree this year!); bottom right is our veggie patch, where we’re growing kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and tomatoes! Then, next to that is my new garden bed I made during COVID. It’s a garden dedicated to growing plants I’m using to make essential oils with from scratch!
- 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 doesn’t need to be transported as far, plus, food can be picked riper, as they don’t need to pick the fruit earlier to prevent it over-ripening and going off before reaching supermarket shelves. Thus, they often pick produce before it’s fully ripened, meaning that it can often be less nutritious. What’s more, you can buy organic produce and pick them up in your own produce bags, the food is often cheaper, and you support smaller farms who are less likely to have monoculture crops and factory farming practices. Plus I just love exploring markets, you never know what you’ll come across!
The local markets I visited when I was up in Queensland earlier this year.
- Biking to work and local cafes
Instead of hopping in the car and driving short distances to places, why not think about biking? It will not only improve you overall health and fitness levels (and is a great way to squeeze a bit of exercise into your day), but will also help to reduce emissions. Plus, if you’re biking to your favourite local cafe, think how much that coffee will mean to you buy the end! 😉
- Purchase sustainably + ethically made clothing
When I purchase any clothing (which isn’t often), I always opt for sustainably-made, ethically-made clothing, that use organic materials (like hemp, bamboo, or recycled items like plastic). We have immense power as consumers, where we can put our dollar towards something better if we choose to. I usually purchase clothes from Wolven Threads, or recently of late, I’ve been looking at secondhand stores for things (though I haven’t purchased anything of yet). I usually get given clothing from cousins and other family members, 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 it’s 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 the insecticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide. Also, also, also!! In Australia (it may be around the world as well, I’m not entirely sure), we’ve been having problems with our cotton farmers (not all, just some) drawing out all the water from local ecosystems, rivers, and streams to use on their crop when water has been scarce. This has resulted in these streams and other bodies of water drying up completely, or being contaminated and becoming uninhabitable, affecting local fish species, and other native wildlife populations who would use these streams, rivers, etc. as water sources. A quote that I heard from Ethically Kate and just loved (because it summed up consumerism in a nutshell for me) was:
Go fair trade
Words to live by, aye?
- Collecting and reusing old hair ties
Whenever I find a hair tie lying around on the ground, left and forgotten, I collect it up, take it home with me (wash it, of course) and use 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 and lose 19 of them in the first week. That final hair tie I’ll treat with such care until that fateful day about 6 months later when I lose it too, or it breaks (it’s a sad day when that happens). Any who, 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 actually boil them to tighten them back up again (and it also cleans them, too), and they’re good as new again! However, if you’re not too keen on using other people’s old or forgotten hair ties, you can actually make your own! I share the full step-by-step process here, but to sum it up in one breath (cause I know you don’t have all day to read this post, and it’s already getting pretty long as is…):
you-grab-a-pair-of-old-used-stockings-tights-or-old-leggings-preferably-ones-with-holes-in-them-that-you-won’t-be-using-ever-again-and-cut-the-legs-to-make-hair-ties! Voila! Sounds easy? It honestly is! And 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 from then on out. Even if you lose them all the time like I do! You’ll never have to buy another hair tie ever again!!
Left: the coiled hair tie I found at work, took home, boiled (to clean it), then added to my collection of spiralled hair bands! Top right: the hair ties I made using old stockings. Bottom right: the hair scrunchy I found while swimming in the ocean at the beach. I took it home, washed it, and it was as good as new!
- Making your own natural hair dyes
Rather than using harsh, chemical filled hair dyes that not only damage your luscious locks but wash down the drain polluting our waterways and ecosystems, you can actually make your own natural versions! 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 dyed my hair red with henna! There are heaps of other natural ways to dye hair (completely chemical-free!), and I will be sharing more cool natural hair dyes in future. But feel free to experiment with what works on your hair! (and totally let me know, so I can try them out as well!)
From left to right: lightening my hair with apple cider vinegar, dyeing my hair purple with beets, using henna to dye my hair red, and dyeing my hair blonde with turmeric! There’s many more to come (I’ll be testing some new ones out soon!)
- Regrow veggies from scraps
I tried this out last year and absolutely loved it! It was so much fun! I regrew carrots, bok choy, garlic, onion, fennel, cabbage, spring onions, and celery, but the sky is really the limit with this! There are so many different veggies you can regrow (including growing an avocado tree from seed!). Once some of the veggies are big enough, you can transplant them into soil, OR simply leave them in the container of water (you may just need to top up the water every so often) and have an endless supply of veggies to pick from! For the whole process of how to regrow veggies from scraps, see here.
- 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 in them. Palm oil is very harmful on 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 use other than palm oil, so i just avoid it completely (that’s my own personal preference), but sustainable palm oil I do agree is better than unsustainable, however I just avoid any type of palm oil in my products.
Weird, right? Why would avocados be put on this list. Just wait… I learnt this tip from Gittemary Johansen in one of her videos, and was surprised to hear that avocados, if not sourced mindfully, can have quite an impact on the planet (not in a good way). Avocados have become quite the “trendy” food (you may have noticed on Instagram?), and because of this, their demand has skyrocketed. Gittemary mentioned that a lot of avocados are sourced from Mexico, where they tend to monocrop them. This monocropping causes big problems on the soil and surrounding ecosystems (as it’s very unnatural to grow one type of crop on the same land year after year). This strips soil of nutrients, and can over time, cause soil to become barren, where it is no longer fertile and can’t grow anything on it anymore. What’s more, it creates the spread of pests and diseases, which must be treated with yet more chemicals. It also affects and alters the natural ecosystem around it, requires lots of water to irrigate, pollutes groundwater supplies, and uses a lot of fossil fuel energy (among many other things). So, if you can, it can be a good idea to source avocados locally (going back to the point about purchasing locally-grown from local markets), and buy seasonal.
For more tips I learnt while living zero-waste, see my video below!
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 your experience below! We’d love hear!
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