7 Basics of Zero Waste for Beginners

What is Zero Waste? In short Zero Waste is a life style in which you don’t send any trash to the landfill. It is a growing trend as consumers become more conscious of the environmental impact of trash (with emphasis on plastic) and the consequences that directly impact us. It’s realizing we need to change the way we are currently living. Walking into a shop you are bombarded with plastic packaging. Convenience has driven consumers to the market place… and what is more convenient than plastic?

I know you feel like you are being crushed with guilt, but don’t loose hope. Every little change you make will be the step in the right direction. I will start with the absolute basics of what it means to be on a journey towards Zero Waste.

The principles of Zero Waste is best described by Bea Johnson as the 5 R’s (and in THIS order only):

  • REFUSE what you don’t need
  • REDUCE what you do use
  • REUSE what you can
  • RECYCLE if you cannot reuse or upcycle
  • ROT scraps of fruits, vegetables, egg shells, etc. in a compost bin

Here is a beginner’s guide in ways to get started:

  1. Say NO to the straw

Straws are once-use plastic that is actually a waste. Just by asking for your drink without a straw can make a huge difference. If you really cannot live without a straw there are a few alternatives, namely straws made of glass, bamboo or stainless steel. I opt for a stainless steel one and I carry it with me where ever I go.

  1. Use re-usable bags

I know we all have them… but never with us. Make just a bit of an effort to pop a small foldable one in your handbag/ backpack and/or leave a few in the car. Plastic bags are probably one our biggest problems when it comes to pollution in South Africa. They block storm drains, fill our rivers and go straight into our oceans. Marine life often mistaken them for jelly fish and eat them or feed them to their young.

  1. Coffee cup for on the go

Invest in a bamboo, stainless steel or glass reusable coffee cup for those coffees on the go. An average South African coffee shop sells around 300 take-away coffee’s a day, all these cups are single use and go directly to landfill. I use mine for any treats on the go whether it’s smoothies, latte’s or ice cream. I have found this cup very handy.

  1. Water bottle

Who hasn’t been told they need to drink more water? I know plastic bottled water market themselves as plant-based and recyclable… it’s all a roos. It takes 10 times the amount of water in the bottle to make the bottle and tests done on a global scale has resulted that 95% of the bottles are contaminated with microplastics. The same plastics poisoning our oceans. If you are unsure of your water source (South Africa’s tap water is drinkable) there are filters, like charcoal filters (zero waste way to go), that can help with that if you do find yourself in a place that doesn’t have drinkable water source.

  1. Recycle

If you haven’t started, the time is now! Most areas do provide a pick-up service for recycling, however, if you are not as fortunate you can either find out where the closest drop off areas are or contract a recycling company to pick up your recycling. I would definitely suggest that you include your neighbourhood in a joined effort to get recycling service in your area.

  1. Compost

Recycling takes care of your paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium, steel and some plastics (not all plastics are recyclable). But now you are left with your food waste. Solution? Compost your veggie scraps, rinsed egg shells, bread crumbs, leaves, hair, etc. Compost bins come in various shapes and sizes, each designed for your lifestyle.

  1. Eco-Bricks

And what about those small unrecyclable plastic that sneak into our home? Tags, receipts, Styrofoam, clingwrap, wrappers, stickers… things we do try to avoid. Simple, in South African we have a need for cheap building material and plastic is any easy answer. An eco-brick is basically filling a 2L bottle with plastic to the point that it doesn’t dent under your weight. There are various charities that are always on the lookout for this. I have been filling mine for the past three months and it still isn’t full.

I know this is an information overload so this is my advice to you: start with one change at a time and be patient with yourself and the process. Zero Waste doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual process. And Zero Waste doesn’t literally mean Zero Waste, to me it’s about living consciously with what you spend your money on, what you put in your body and what organisations you support. You do what you can and try your best. And the most rewarding part? Not only are you making a difference to our environment, but Zero Waste living is good to your health and your pocket. I wish you all the best as you take your first step towards a Zero Waste Lifestyle.

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