Your Guide to Becoming Zero Waste in AustraliaFebruary 7, 2020
Thinking of going Zero Waste? We couldn’t be more proud. Going Zero Waste is a serious undertaking that has benefits for you, your community, the environment, and our beautiful planet. Once you start on the journey, you’ll never look back. That said, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Our society is so used to accumulating so many products, so much packaging, and so much waste that it’s hard to imagine getting rid of it. But we’re here to help.
Going Zero Waste isn’t something you need to do alone. There are others who have done it before (like us) who are here to help and make the journey easier. We’ll show you how to slowly adopt Zero Waste behaviours so you can easily transition from your current lifestyle to one that’s waste-free. Give yourself time, be patient, and read our tips below to get you started…
What is Zero Waste?
Zero Waste is a lifestyle choice and a principle that’s focused around reducing the amount of rubbish we collect as a society. We currently live in a disposable and consumerist world where it’s easy to accumulate things we don’t need. We buy cheap items and throw them out a few months later, we collect toys and trinkets and plastic bags and packets – and they all end up in landfill.
On an individual level, a Zero Waste lifestyle is one where you send as little as possible to landfill – whether that’s in the red bin or yellow bin. When you’re practicing Zero Waste, you’re aiming to:
- Reduce the amount of waste you collect,
- Reuse as many items as possible,
- Compost all the food you’d normally chuck in the bin, and
- Recycle what you must.
In Australia, the Zero Waste lifestyle is taking off, and it’s becoming easier than ever for households to cut down on the amount of rubbish they put out each week. Composting is becoming a viable solution and increasingly acceptable. Cafes, shops, and supermarkets are learning to reduce the amount of packaging and plastic they force into our hands. As a whole, we’re in the early days of a Zero Waste system that will only grow with time.
What could a Zero Waste Australia look like? Well, for starters, we would stop taking our rubbish into landfills, where it can pile up for decades and release harmful toxins into the Earth. Instead, we will slowly rework the system until there is no more rubbish to be thrown out. Everything will be reusable, recyclable, and able to be integrated back into the system as a resource. The idea of rubbish will be a thing of the past. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?
What are the benefits of Zero Waste?
We could go on and on about the benefits of Zero Waste, but we’ll keep it simple. Read the benefits of going Zero Waste and you’ll be patting yourself on the back for choosing to take on this journey.
1. It’s great for the economy
The principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling create around 10 x more jobs than rubbish disposal. At the same time, going Zero Waste is about embracing a shared economy, which opens up job opportunities that didn’t exist before.
2. It’s better for the environment
The cycle of production, packaging, and consumption accounts for around 42% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Going Zero Waste, and introducing more recycling initiatives, helps to curb the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere. As an example, it takes 20x less energy to make a new aluminium can from recycled materials than it does from using raw materials.
3. It embraces a community mindset
There are so many ways in which going Zero Waste brings together communities. At the moment, we each live in individual households and buy the things we need. Zero Waste isn’t just about reducing our rubbish. It’s about sharing our resources with each other so that we don’t have to accumulate junk that we rarely use.
In another example, Zero Waste is about giving things back to the community instead of throwing them in landfill. Too many households currently throw out their extra food, clothing, or unwanted items in the rubbish bin when they could instead be redistributed to the needy. Going Zero Waste gives equal opportunities for Australians to pool their resources and share them with their community.
4. It helps you save money
That’s right, Zero Waste has benefits on you as well as the world at large. In our current practices of consumption, we rely on buying products that we could easily make at home ourselves. Take cleaning products for example. Most of us buy cleaning sprays that are full of chemicals and come in plastic bottles, when in fact most of the surfaces in our homes can be cleaned with a simple solution of baking soda and vinegar. The same can be said for deodorants, toothpaste, and more!
5. It’s good for the climate
Landfills release a lot of methane gas into the atmosphere. The amount is so high that landfills themselves are attributed to trapping 84x more heat in our atmosphere in the short term than carbon dioxide. Cutting down on how much we send to landfill reduces methane emissions, helping put a pause on accelerating climate change.
6. It makes you more mindful of how you spend
A lot of us spend money unconsciously, buying things at a whim and taking them home to enjoy. But embracing the Zero Waste lifestyle encourages you to think more about why you’re purchasing a particular item, how badly do you need it in your life, and how long do you think it will last you? These are questions we don’t always ask when shopping, and you’d be surprised at how often you’ll put down that item you thought you needed!
How to go Zero Waste at home
The first step to going Zero Waste is increasing your awareness. Zero Waste is a huge journey and undertaking, and you must take your time with it – you can’t go completely waste-free within a week. Start with simple awareness in your daily life – what are some things that you could cut out? What are some disposable items that could be replaced with reusables? Slowly, you can start to cut out products and replace them with Zero Waste options.
It may be tempting for some people to throw out everything that’s wasteful in their home so that they can start from a clean slate straight away. While we admire your effort here, this is totally against the ethos of being Zero Waste. Stick it out, use what you have in your home – plastic or wasteful or not – and then you can start to go Zero Waste from there.
Here’s how to begin the Zero Waste journey in your home.
Step 1 – Use what you have
The next step is to use what you have so that you can start fresh and make better choices from here on out. Look inside your pantry and see what cans or jars of food and condiments you have. Start being creative with your recipes and aim to use up every single item until your pantry is clear and you have a clean slate for your Zero Waste journey.
Most of us also have accumulated ‘spares’ of things like deodorant, shampoo, tissues, shower caps, and so on. Instead of buying new products, start using those spares until you’ve reduced that clutter.
Don’t throw out any plastic containers, jars, or items that can be reused and repurposed. Keep your containers, boxes, tubs, and so on, and find a useful purpose for them in your home.
Step 2 – Make simple swaps
Start simple. As you begin to phase out what you have, start substituting items with reusable products instead. We’re lucky in Australia to already have so many businesses campaigning against waste and making it easier for us to say no to things like plastic bags and plastic straws. This makes swapping over to Zero Waste products even easier.
Most Aussies are already taking our own bag to the supermarket instead of collecting more plastic bags. Next, you can move on to bamboo toothbrushes once your plastic toothbrush has had its run. Don’t buy any more bottled water and use a reusable glass bottle instead. As always, say no to plastic straws. Start with these simple swaps, and as you go, you can work your way up to bigger things.
Below, we’ve outlined some simple swaps in the kitchen and bathroom that you can start implementing to get you started on your journey to Zero Waste.
Going Zero Waste in the kitchen
- Replace plastic straws with reusable bamboo, silicone, or stainless steel straws,
- Trade cling wrap for beeswax wraps,
- Instead of plastic water bottles, go for reusable bottles,
- If you drink takeaway coffees, bring your own reusable cup,
- Use compostable bamboo scrubbers instead of sponges,
- Trade plastic sandwich bags or paper bags with reusable silicone bags,
- Go for cloth napkins instead of paper napkins,
- Make your own DIY cleaning products,
- Try to use glass containers instead of plastic tupperware,
- Replace aluminium foil with silicone baking mats,
- Compost leftover foods rather than throwing it in the rubbish, or donate it to the needy,
- Where possible, shop from bulk food places to avoid collecting packaging waste in your home,
- Bring your own bags to the supermarket and use them to bag vegetables.
Going Zero Waste in the bathroom
- Use compostable bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic,
- Try to use recycled toilet paper,
- If you can hack it – try to use handkerchiefs instead of tissues,
- Use real plant loofahs instead of plastic loofahs,
- Go for cloth nappies instead of disposable nappies,
- Swap plastic floss with water-based flossing machines,
- Go for compostable earbuds instead of plastic ones,
- Try to use soap bars instead of body wash that comes in plastic bottles,
- Consider trading store-bought deodorant and toothpastes with homemade versions.
How to go Zero Waste at school
Going completely Zero Waste at school can be tricky. If you have a child in primary school, then you’ll know that most Aussie schools send out supply and stationery lists at the beginning of each year. There will be disposable items on that list, you will have some unnecessary packaging to throw out, and there’s little that can be done about that. Our suggestion is to not deny your children the equipment they need for school, but to try and minimise the amount of waste that’s created by the school supplies that you buy.
When it comes to going Zero Waste at school, the key is investing in quality items that can last year after year. This is especially important with things like backpacks, lunchboxes, and drink bottles – go for something durable and you won’t have to throw it out at the end of each school year. Here are our best tips for going Zero Waste at school.
- Try to use notebooks made from recycled paper. You can find these in certain book stores or online,
- Go for a metal or stainless steel lunch box instead of a plastic one. They’re less likely to break and are recyclable,
- Most stationery like pens, coloured pencils, textas, etc. come in cardboard packaging. Try to compost this packaging where possible,
- For older children and university students, consider investing in a refillable fountain pen rather than throwing away pen after pen,
- Replace plastic highlighter pens with highlighter pencils, which can be composted once used up. They also will never dry up and last for years,
- Go for stainless steel rulers rather than plastic ones that can easily break,
- If you feel up for it, invest in an electric pencil sharpener instead of plastic ones that can break easily. Sharpen your kids’ pencils at home,
- Cover your books with newspapers or magazine cut-outs rather than buying plastic book wrapping paper.
How to go Zero Waste at work
Okay, so there’s little you can do about waste if your job involves making lots of it. Whether it’s printing paper or ripping through packaging, your job is your job. What you can do is reduce the amount of waste you personally create at work. If you’re feeling ultra dedicated to the Zero Waste cause (which we admire), then you can even campaign for your workplace to be less wasteful.
Most Australian businesses are already trying to reduce the amount of waste that they create, opting in for more eco-friendly practices and behaviours. Go us! To get you started on creating a Zero Waste work environment, we’ve got some ideas below…
- If you have the time, try to pack your own lunch where possible – in a stainless steel lunchbox, of course! This saves you using plastic takeaway containers,
- If you don’t have time to cook (and that’s understandable), try to say no to extra napkins and plastic forks and knives. Bring your own cutlery instead. If you really feel dedicated, you can even bring your own reusable container and ask the restaurant to pack your food inside of that instead of a disposable container,
- Bring your own reusable coffee cup for all those caffeine fixes,
- If your workplace sends out printed memos and other unnecessary paper trails, try to campaign for going digital where possible,
- Try to catch public transport or ride your bike to work if possible. If it’s an option, consider carpooling with coworkers,
- If your job involves lots of printing, use recycled paper and always print double-sided. This will halve the amount of paper that you use,
- Campaign for less packaging and waste in your office kitchen – see the kitchen tips above,
- If your workplace bathroom uses disposable paper towels, try to push for a air dryer or using a cotton towel instead,
- Make sure there’s a recycling bin if there isn’t one already. If you feel daring, try to introduce a compost bin as well,
- Finally – spread the word on Zero Waste! Tell your colleagues about how much it’s changing your life and try to initiate change within your office – without being that person of course.
Going Zero Waste is a long journey. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen in a week (or even in a month). The fact that you’re even reading this article and interested in taking on this challenge is admirable in itself. Make sure you give yourself enough time to build awareness of your habits and start with the simple swaps. Slowly, the Zero Waste lifestyle will become a second nature.
You’ll automatically carry reusable bags with you whenever you go out, so you’ll never have to use the plastic ones at the shops. Your reusable coffee cup will live in your handbag and you’ll never forget to take it with you. Composting will be the norm. DIY cleaning and grooming products will be your new favourite life hack. Take it step-by-step and watch your life slowly transform as your waste is reduced. And give yourself a pat on the back!