Six months waste free


In my earlier piece I made the case for lessening your climactic impact on the planet by reducing the amount of waste you generate. As I said there, on the face of it there seems to be less of a direct link with combatting climate change than there is with the conventional advice of driving and flying less or switching unused lights off. However there is certainly a case to be made for reducing waste in terms of the mindset it encourages.

Something which is not always realised is that the Zero Waste movement is about much more than recycling. Recycling is actually near the bottom of the hierarchy. Zero-wasting is principally about reducing consumption of products which involve any packaging. Of course, it is only really possible to live packaging-free if you grow or forage for all of your own food and do not use any electricity. This is not a blog about abandoning modern life in this extreme way and instead some concessions must be made with respect to purchasing. After reducing packaging comes maximising reusable packaging (such as jam jars) and only then maximising recyclable packaging.* The recycling process can itself be rather polluting, both during transport and during processing. In addition, there are many cases of items (such as coffee cups) which are technically recyclable but for which there are rarely the correct facilities in place, meaning contents of your recycling bin may well end up in landfill.

On 1st October 2016 I decided it was time to join the Zero Waste movement officially. In these last 6 months, I have generated just 390g of disposable waste: two non-recyclable tubs, filled with other bits and pieces, as shown in the header image, along with various stickers and labels. My target is to only generate 500g per year, so there is a little way reducing to go yet. However, as I have mentioned before, the average American generates around 500kg per year, so contributing such an insignificant fraction is in my opinion okay, but there is still room for progress to be made.


In these past 6 months, a number of people have asked for tips on how to reduce waste. I am certainly no guru, and still have little advice for how to replace makeup-related waste such as cotton wool, for example. However, what I can offer is a few ideas which I have found very helpful.

  • Shop local! Buying fruit and vegetables at a local market is a sure-fire way to avoid food waste, reduce food miles and help local commerce.
  • At first I was concerned Whole Foods is the only well-known store in the UK which has a bulk section, where you can bring your own containers for grains, nuts, oats, dried fruit and pulses. Upon my first visit, I was delighted to find it isn’t even that expensive! (Well, at least in the bulk section). In addition, walking around the aisles of Whole Foods, seeing and smelling the delicious products is wonderful. It’s like going to Harrods without the feeling of revulsion. Sadly, as far as I am aware, the Whole Foods route to zero waste is accessible only to those in the UK, USA and Canada; in the UK, only to Londoners and possibly dwellers of Edinburgh. However I am sure there are various co-operatives and local stores elsewhere across the world which provide a similar service.
  • If you absolutely must buy some foods in a plastic wrapper, Sainsburys stores (and others) now have facilities for recycling certain types of plastic bag and wrapper. As a rule of thumb, the types accepted are ‘stretchy’ rather than ‘stiff’. This service also helps out with those awkward products like toilet roll that are not available without packaging.**
  • Toothpaste tubes are (as far as I am aware) rather tricky to recycle. No problem! Lush have a range of tooth powders. These strange sounding (but absolutely fine, except perhaps the wasabi flavour) substances come in a small pot which can be returned to the shop for reuse. Five used pots can even be exchanged for a free face mask. Not only paste, but also brushes can be accounted for, with plastic-free toothbrushes now available online.
  • Start a Terracycle collection in your workplace. This organisation runs drop-off points  across the country for various items which are usually difficult to recycle, including used pens, biscuit wrappers and coffee packaging.
  • Try and find alternative uses for waste products. I recently ended up being given a free coffee in a disposable cup and decided to use it as a plant pot for some home-grown garlic.


Hopefully my comments on the Zero Waste lifestyle are useful. I am happy to respond to any questions or suggestions and really encourage anyone to attempt the Zero Waste challenge, even for a fortnight or month. On top of the environmental benefits, it can be a rather therapeutic exercise and, if done carefully, usually leads to financial savings.


*: When I say ‘maximising’ here, what I really mean is maximising the amount of reusable and recyclable packaging after already minimising packaging in general. It is against the Zero Waste movement to be encouraged to buy things just because they come in a recyclable package.

**: The waste issues concerning use of toilet roll are something I am currently looking into. You will be pleased to know I do not keep used toilet roll in a jar as part of my 500g per year.

3 thoughts on “Six months waste free

  1. Pingback: The murky path to high-tech production | Cut waste, not trees (down)

  2. Pingback: One year, zero waste | Cut waste, not trees (down)

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