Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Towards zero waste

Embrace the reused glass jar
It's unlikely that zero waste is possible for humans, but we can achieve zero food waste quite easily (especially if we don't have children!) and we can also aim to reuse as much as possible and create mainly biodegradable waste.

Here are a few of the things we do, and recommend to all thinking people, to reduce our resource requirements.

Take consumer responsibility seriously

Give your business to businesses that use little and biodegradable packaging such as cardboard or compostable vegware packaging. Of course, it can be hard to tell from the outside how much packaging is used, for example individually plastic-wrapped tea bags, but you're only going to buy that brand once. And it is impossible to know what kind of packaging is used when ordering online, but again you can reserve repeat custom for ethical companies.

Similarly, if you are running a business think carefully about the amount of packaging and the material to use.

Reuse if you can

Fruit leathers in former instant coffee jars
Zero waste kitchen storage looks pretty too
Glass recycling is all very well and does save some energy compared with using virgin materials, but it still uses a lot more energy than simply reusing glass containers, either in the home or through a bottle deposit scheme. So basically never throw out another glass jar again! The low-waste way of life does require a lot of glass jars and bottles for storage and, since we are not buying anything in jars any more, we've got to the stage where we're asking all of our guests to bring spare glass jars. Keeping your dry goods, herbs, spices and snacks in glass jars also looks good in the kitchen and is hygienic, keeping stored food safe from pests.

A good way to reuse cardboard, other than using it as fire-lighting material, is as mulch in the garden, for example as part of a no-dig 'lasagna' bed or around newly planted fruit trees, bushes or hedge plants or simply as weed suppression in a new area you plan to cultivate.

As for plastic - we so rarely have plastic bottles that we had to raid our neighbour's recycling when we wanted some for storing our kvass.

Cut out single-use plastic

There is no need for single-use plastic items. Plastic straws are not one of life's necessities. If you want a takeaway coffee, take your own mug. And there are affordable alternatives to plastic plates, cups and cutlery for picnics, barbecues or parties: palm leaf compostable tableware, wooden cutlery, kraft paper cups and plates.

Use your own containers

Always have a canvas or durable plastic bag with you, in case of unanticipated purchases. Take your own bags and containers when you go shopping. If you're lucky enough to live in a country where you can buy milk direct from the farmer, such as England or Germany, you can even refill your own milk churns. Buy dry goods from bulk shops where you can refill your own containers - or buy them in bulk online when they usually come in a 25kg paper bag, which can then be reused as a bin bag, as mulch or be burnt. Grown your own veg or buy fresh produce loose and transport in your own bags.

Make your own toiletries and cleaning materials

Homemade lip balm in reusable container
Cut out all those plastic bottles in the bathroom and kitchen by making your own toiletries. Waste reduction strategies include:
  • Using bars of soap instead of shower gels and liquid soap
  • Using shampoo bars or rye flour instead of shampoo
  • Making your own washing-up liquid and reusing old containers to store it
  • Using vinegar or steam to clean
  • Making your own lotions and potions and reusing jars to store them
  • Reducing the amount of make-up you wear or cutting it out altogether
  • For women, using a moon cup instead of sanitary towels or tampons
  • Using moistened old shirt rags instead of  wet wipes/moist toilet tissue and boil-washing them before reusing - an ideal way of using up old clothes, once they're past the 'work clothes' stage.

Eat up

Regularly check what needs to be eaten
Healthy snacks
  • Regularly check what’s in your fridge and store cupboards and which items need to be used up.
  • Eat up your leftovers. Turning them into a different dish the next day helps with this.
  • At least once a year, eat up everything in your store cupboards and freezer, clear them right out and start afresh. This will avoid items lurking at the back of the cupboard for years. You will have the peace of mind that everything in there is at most one year old. We don't even label our preserves because we eat them all within the year. If you're still eating five-year-old preserves you are making too many - take a year off from them and use your produce in a different way.
  • Change what you snack. For example, rather than buying a packet of crisps, make your own crisps or have an easy-to-make healthy homemade snack such as cold leftover potatoes with salt and pepper (the original potato snack), a bowl of kimchi, a hard-boiled egg, a slice of homemade bread with herb butter.
  • Impress on your children the need to eat up - there are helpful books around on the subject. Not offering too many alternatives seems to work.

Children, at least, can be reasoned with on the subject of food waste. Our only food waste is usually cat food. This is where livestock, like chickens or pigs, comes in handy. We basically treat our chickens as if they were pigs; they eat almost anything and love cat food.

Drink sensibly

  • Drink tap water rather than bottled mineral water. Filter it if need be.
  • Eat a juicy piece of fruit or make your own juices/smoothies/cordials rather than have packaged juice or sugary soft drinks.
  • Buy milk direct from the farm if you can.
  • Grow your own tea herbs. A few containers of tea herbs such as mint, lemon balm, camomile and sage don't take up a lot of space. They can even be grown on a windowsill in a flat or on a balcony.


  • Compost your food and garden waste.
  • Bury meat bones and fish heads in the garden to enrich the soil.

Buy second-hand

Save things from the landfill!
  • Preloved furniture is often a fraction of the price of new furniture and, depending on age, can be higher quality wood, with better workmanship and any VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) will be long gone. Charity shops, antiques barns, auctions, house clearances, furniture projects are all good sources for tables, chairs, sofas, chests of drawers, wardrobes and bed frames.
  • Charity shops are a great source of clothing too, especially for bargains on winter coats and party dresses, and you can assemble a fun mix-and-match china crockery selection and glassware for your kitchen.
  • There are lots of second-hand books in excellent condition around (I say this even though I am an author myself and, of course, wouldn't earn any money from second-hand sales of my own book). Ditto for second-hand technology such as laptops and mobile phones.

One by one, these are pretty simple changes to make, but each step by each individual takes us a little closer to the goal. Some require a little discipline but nothing too onerous. And all of the above save us money, sometimes serious money. The most important first step? Just thinking about what we consume and questioning whether we really need to consume it.

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