There’s no sugar-coating it: transitioning to a waste-free lifestyle is hard. First, you’ll notice all of the ways that you produce waste, from the obvious (the weekly rubbish pickup) to the not-so-obvious (recycling that ends up in landfill).
Research shows that Australians generate approximately 64 million tonnes of waste each year, which comes to 2.7 tonnes per person. That’s about the weight of a small African elephant—and the amount is growing. All that waste has to go somewhere, and right now it’s building up in landfills across the country.
Recycling may seem like the answer, but it’s not. About 30 percent of Australia’s recyclables are sent to China, a practice that is being brought to an end by the Chinese government. The cost of recycling in Australia is so costly that many companies wind up diverting it straight back to the landfills.
In a perfect world, living waste-free means that nothing you consume ends up in a landfill. It’s a focus on reusing what you have and recycling only as a last resort. Most of all, it’s about starting small and building zero-waste habits over time.
Don’t be daunted! As you shift your habits, it becomes easier than you might expect to live waste-free. Here are a few tips to get you started.
The next time you go to the supermarket, have a closer look at the packaging on the shelves. Nearly everything besides the fresh produce comes in plastic or cardboard, which is what you’re trying to eliminate.
Bring your own bag to the supermarket and focus on fresh items that don’t come already wrapped. Shopping at the deli? Bring containers from home and ask for the items to be put directly into them. It may feel awkward at first, but think of how easy it will be putting everything away when you’re unpacking.
Buy in bulk
Reducing packaging is easy when you’re buying fruit and vegetables, but what about grains, cereals, and pasta? This is where your local bulk food store comes in handy. Bring your own bags and load up with the extras you need, without all of the wasteful bags and boxes.
New stuff means more waste, and not just in terms of packaging. If you’re looking for a new couch or dining room table, chances are you can find a gently-used one that meets your needs. Visit second hand stores or online marketplaces like Gumtree and eBay to purchase items without adding to the world’s waste problem.
Compost your food waste
Australians throw away food like it’s going out of style, and it contributes to the landfill problem. There are three great options for breaking down food waste at home: compost bins, worm farms, and Bokashi bins. Worm farms and Bokashi bins are excellent for turning food scraps into fertiliser, while compost bins will break down garden waste and some food waste.
Fix what’s broken
Many of us are in the habit of chucking out broken objects and buying new ones, especially when it’s cheap to do so. However, this is just another way we produce too much waste. Take the time to repair things when they break and extend their life. This goes for shoes, furniture, appliances, clothes—the list is endless!
Get smart about your coffee
First of all, ditch the coffee pods. Experts estimate that three million of these little plastic pods are thrown out each day in Australia. Second, stop accepting takeaway coffee cups. They’re usually lined with plastic, meaning they can’t be efficiently recycled. Get a reusable coffee cup or two and ask the barista to fill it up. In many cafes, you’ll even get a discount on your coffee!
Reuse wherever possible
It’s not just coffee cups that you should start reusing. The same goes for your water bottles, cutlery, straws, and containers. Phase out one-time-use items and pick up good quality reusables, then make a commitment to using them.
Make your own
Have a quick scan of your bathroom and you’ll probably see plastic bottles on every shelf: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, makeup, even cleaning products. Start making your own products where you can and storing them in reusable containers.
Pick up a growler
Beer drinkers, put down those aluminium cans and pick up a growler instead! Seek out a brewery or bottle shop that sells growlers, refillable containers specifically for beer. Just bring your growlers back to the source and cut those cans out of your life.
Still getting bills in the post? Go online and request paperless billing to cut down on the waste that comes into your mailbox. While you’re at it, stick a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your letterbox to ward off the weekly circulars that just wind up in the bin.
Get a menstrual cup
Tampons and pads are life-savers for many women, but unfortunately, they end up in landfills. Stop the waste by using a menstrual cup instead, which can be washed and reused. Once you’re used to them, menstrual cups are actually pretty convenient and environmentally-friendly.
The thought of switching to cloth nappies may make parents of young children cringe, but the truth is, plastic diapers are a serious problem. Changing over to cloth diapers is a major way you can start living waste-free. And remember, it’s those babies that are going to grow up to deal with the trash problem we’ve caused.
These are just a few ways to get started building a zero-waste lifestyle. Keep at it and over time, you’ll be leaps and bounds closer to where you want to be. The planet—and future generations—will thank you!