Over a year ago I wrote a post called 10 steps to go zero waste (without buying anything new) and to my surprise it is my most read article to date. I think sometimes the zero waste movement is one that seems like you can only join if you have the privilege of money to buy all these fancy reusable items, but that is simply not true. Some of the least wasteful people are the people who don't have any money to waste on single use items, and reuse everything they can. My Grandma would always be pulling cakes and biscuits out of empty butter tubs because she understood the value of not thowing things away if they could be used again, not because she cared about the aesthetics of the storage. There are so many things you can do to reduce your waste without buying anything new, so here are 10 more!
1. Quit kitchen roll
Although kitchen roll is mostly biodegradable in compost if it doesn't contain any plastic to strengthen it, paper towel is pretty wasteful when you stop to think about it. We cut down trees, transport them across the world, process them into paper, transport them to the store, then to our homes just to be used for a few seconds? Using reusable alternatives like tea-towels, fabric scraps, or reusable kitchen roll is a great alternative. Throw straight into the washing machine or washing pile when done and start saving the trees that we desperately need to help our climate. (And also the amount of water needed to wash cloths is less than the amount needed to process trees into paper!)
2. Avoid food waste with your freezer
Food waste is such a problem, with a third of all edible food going to waste. A simple way for us to avoid food waste is to pop things in the freezer before they go off, saving your self time, money and preventing waste. Freeze things like fruit, veggies, herbs, sauces, and even whole meals! More food waste tips can be found in this article.
3. Skip the cling film
Cling film or saran wrap is incredibly wasteful and most people will tell you to buy wax wraps to avoid it. But often you don't need either! Place a plate over the top of a bowel and it will do the same effect. If you have a cut piece of fruit, put it cut side down on a plate to help protect it, or if it has more than one cut edge then put it in an airtight jar. Swapping one wrap for another may seem like a good solution but if you don't need to buy anything new it's actually better for the planet and saves you money too.
4. Get your coffee to sit in
If you don’t want to buy a reusable coffee cup for on the go because you can't afford to or you just don't think you'll use it enough to justify it, then just sit in when you get a drink. If you’re time poor then ask for it at drinking temperature and you can drink it much faster. If your local coffee shop doesn’t do reusable mugs you can literally just take a mug from home to use. A whopping 69% of people own a travel cup and yet only 1/6 people use them (Hubbub), so if you won't use one, feel justified not buying one!
Yes, the biggest thing you can do to reduce waste is vote for politicians who support waste reducing and climate friendly policies. Simple (although not always easy). If you have the democratic right to vote in your country, do so, it’s free and so vital.
6. Learn to make something you would normally buy
Usually buy an exfoliant? Can you make one out of used coffee grounds instead? You would be reducing waste and avoiding purchasing something that often comes in packaging! Perhaps you like fruit smoothies - could you try making one from unpackaged fruit you already own instead of buying one in packaging? Could you try making dry shampoo (recipe) instead of buying an aerosol can of it? Although not all DIYs reduce waste overall, sometimes they're a good waste to avoid packaging, use something that otherwise would have ended up in the bin, and save some money.
7. Take your own cutlery & napkin
I’m not suggesting buying anything specially for this, just open up your cutlery drawer, grab a knife and fork, and a cloth napkin or tea towel if you have them and pop them in your bag for lunch out of the house. Wash and repeat! Your perfect (and free) zero waste kit.
8. Store food correctly
This doesn't cost a thing and should actually save you money. Storing food correctly keeps it fresher for longer meaning less food waste. Store herbs and certain vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and carrots in water (like flowers) to keep them fresh. Wrap salad leaves in a damp towel to keep them crisp. Find out what works best in the crisper drawer and what is best out of it, and what actually keeps better out of the fridge. Dried items like popcorn and biscuits often work best in an airtight jar. Fridges should also be kept below 5ºC, but in the UK they average 7ºC, so turn down that temperature to keep food fresher for longer. If you're not sure how best to store something, how about giving it a search online on Ecosia (it plants trees when you search online).
9. Skip the tumble dryer
It costs money and is energy intensive, which puts strain on our limited renewable energy resources, so if you’re in a home or climate where you can allow clothes to air dry, let them!
10. Shop second hand (i.e. not new)
Now this may only just fit in to this article, but sometimes you will find your self in a situation where you need to buy something "new for you". Often you can find things by borrowing from friends, finding things on free-cycle type sites, or by hosting swaps with friends. But sometimes you may not be able to find things this way so in these cases try to prioritise buying things second hand instead of new. It stops products going to landfill and new ones being made unnecessarily. Often second hand can be amazing quality and you can even get refurbished electrical items that have the same warrantee as new ones!
There you have it, 10 further ways to go zero waste without spending money.
I hope this article and the first 10 things will help show you that you really don't need to rush out and buy lots of new items to live a zero waste life. More and more people are becoming aware of the threats our planet and climate are facing and are changing their behaviour, but as they do many companies see the potential to make a profit from sustainable living by telling us we need to buy, buy, buy (aka "green consumerism"). The climate crisis isn't something we can buy our way out of and trying to will only worsen the problem. We do need to be conscious consumers, but overall we just need to consume less. We need to change our way of thinking about possessions as the answer to our problems, and start thinking about them as simple tools. The answer to our problems is a mindset shift to desiring and owning less overall.