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Be Earth’s SuperZero: simple lifestyle changes for a zero waste world

Did you know that September 7th-11th is International Zero Waste week? 

The World Bank estimated that 2.01 billion tonnes of waste were generated around the world in 2016. Urbanisation, population increase and cheap throwaway electronics, amongst other things, lead them to believe that this will grow to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050.

Even worse, around a third of that amount is mismanaged by being open dumped or burnt, leading to harmful toxins entering the atmosphere. And of course, we’re all well aware of the horrific amounts of plastic finding its way into our oceans, endangering both marine and human life.

Conserving resources and building a sustainable circular economy have to be our priorities now, if we are to give Earth a fighting chance.

Moving to a zero waste lifestyle would make a huge contribution towards this, but don’t panic if the idea of a big transformation feels intimidating. Here are some ideas for simple but important changes you can make at your own pace. Why not use Zero Waste Week as the ideal starting point?

Refuse to buy rubbish

We’re all familiar with ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ but perhaps, if we really want to encourage zero waste living, we should replace the word ‘reduce’ with ‘refuse’.  Cutting down on things we buy and then throw away is a great start, but the outright rejection of cheaply-made products that are deliberately designed to be binned after use is even better.

Let’s kick off with an everyday example: how many plastic toothbrushes have you used since those first milk teeth poked through your gums? Whatever number you come up with, it’s likely that most of them are still sat in landfill as they take hundreds of years to break down, and leak chemicals as they do so. So, refuse to buy another plastic toothbrush and, instead, pick up a biodegradable bamboo brush that comes in recycled cardboard packaging. See? It’s that easy!

Now, keep going: you’ll be surprised how many items have an eco-friendly alternative you can easily swap into your life.

Shop zero waste

It might take a bit of planning, but drastically reducing the amount of waste you accumulate on your shopping trips isn’t as hard as you might think.

Make sure you take some ethically-sourced, reusable cotton, bamboo or jute shopping bags on your trip, so you won’t need to take any of the plastic ones offered in-store. This includes those thin, fiddly ones that you put individual pieces of fruit and veg in too, which rip so easily they’re usually useless for re-use. Either put things loose into your trolley and straight into your own bags once you’re through the checkout, or have reusable produce bags with you instead.

When you’re food shopping, take your own containers and use them where possible. Many butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers will happily fill them for you, rather than using their own plastic wrappings, and it’s even the case in some supermarkets now.

Bread from bakers usually comes in paper bags rather than plastic and if you’re able to get your milk delivered then it will often arrive in glass bottles you can return.

And if you’re lucky enough to live near one of an increasing number of zero waste shops around the UK you’ll be able to stock up on all kinds of food, cleaning products and other household items without bringing a scrap of unrecyclable packaging home with you!

Eat zero waste

First of all, ditch ready meals! They may be convenient for you but they’re not convenient for the planet. They come in plastic trays, which can’t always be recycled, and have plastic films that have to go in the rubbish. Cooking from scratch with ingredients you’ve brought home in your own containers eliminates the waste and, if you batch cook, you can store portions in the freezer to be heated up when you need them.

Refuse takeaway food that comes in polystyrene boxes, and shun plastic cutlery when you’re eating out. Billions of disposable knives, forks and spoons are made every year, and only used for a few minutes before being discarded. Get in the habit of carrying your own reusable set around with you. The same goes for drinking straws and coffee cups!

Live zero waste

Clingfilm is often our kitchen go-to for leftover food but it isn’t recyclable, it contains chemicals and landfill is full of it. Swap it for natural beeswax wraps: they are washable, compostable and can be used safely on anything edible.

Like toothbrushes, a lot of make-up comes in non-recyclable packaging, but there are many ethical brands out there now who are making great strides towards low or zero waste products, so it’s worth seeking them out. And when it’s time to take it off again try reusable make-up remover pads that you can use, wash and use again, instead of cotton wool that has to be thrown away. You can also buy zero waste soap, deodorant, toilet rolls and lots of other personal care items.

Most people with small children have drawers crammed full of small tubes of sparkles. But glitter is basically a non-degradable microplastic that finds its way everywhere, including our rivers and seas. But fear not, arty tots, as there are now plenty of biodegradable eco-glitter options available instead!

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

The above list is obviously not exhaustive, but it does show us that small alterations can have a big impact. If we all start to refuse products that come at a cost to the planet and choose companies who care about our environment instead, then zero waste living could soon be our new normal. 

Katie Tyndale is the founder and owner of Bee Green Wraps (www.beegreenwraps.co.uk) and Let’s Go Plastic Free (www.letsgoplasticfree.co.uk). She’s on a mission to remove single-use plastics from the planet and replace them with stylish, practical and eco-friendly products for the whole family.