No waste: Tips to ease into a zero waste lifestyle

1st August 2018

No waste: Tips to ease into a zero waste lifestyle

If you follow my Instagram, you might have seen that I attempted a zero waste challenge in May. I just about missed the boat at presenting you my impressions on time for Plastic Free July, but here I go anyway. Now before I go any further, there’s a reason why I used the word attempted: my plastic-free living month was admittedly less than perfect and there was a fair bit of infringement in the form of deep-set habits executed on autopilot.

Drinks were served with a straw without me having time to say hey, food delivery was ordered on a munchies spree, glitters were smeared prior to the club. I did a lot of stuff wrong, and I learned a lot from it.

Seeing how much of a single-use convenience era we live in, making the transition to zero waste living does require some rewiring. And forgiving. I decided not to be too hard on myself and allow for some errors, but most importantly to learn from them. Here are some tips I gathered from my zero waste challenge.

It’s the small actions that count

no waste challenge

Don’t go out and try changing all of your life habits at once. That’s just a recipe for disaster. I did a lot of research at the beginning of the month and one thought led to another, which led to another, and to another, and before I knew it I was on the phone with the the city of Berlin’s recycling facilities to try and figure out what precisely happened with cardboard past our homes’ recycling bins and to see if I could visit the composting facility. I started wondering what could be worse between unpackaged food coming from afar and local food sold with packaging, literally comparing and freaking out over apples and oranges. I started obsessing, because I’m pretty good at that.

And the no waste thing became more and more complicated.

So I took a few steps back. I elected to start with smaller and easier actions that I felt had the biggest impact. I made my own oat milk. I bought in bulk and from the zero waste shop. Packed a lunch every day. Always carried a bamboo straw and all sorts of cotton bags. Eliminated plastic as a first line of action. Made some of my own toiletries and simplified everything else (I went no poo over a year ago).

My zero waste challenge tools

Here are some of the things I’ve purchased over the years. Please please please, use up what you have on hand first and replace items as they run out or break (and fix them first if you can). Natural material objects have the added value of being gorgeous and adding that little extra touch of Hygge to your home 😉

Plastic free living in the kitchen

zero waste kitchen

  • Use reusable metal boxes and silicon “zip locks” for lunches, leftovers, doggy bags, etc
  • Swap Plastic dish sponges for a natural wood and bristle brush with 100% compostable heads
  • Use a nylon mesh bag and make your own nut / oat milk rather than buying tetra packs
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Glass jars from purchased premade food – I bring those to the zero waste shop and put my vegan milk and kombucha in them too
  • Cotton produce / nuts / bread bag – I always have those in my backpack
  • Bamboo straws
  • Homemade cleaning products and soap nuts for the laundry (vinegar, lemon juice, tea tree oil and baking soda are kinds in my home!)
In the bathroom

zero waste bathroom

Zero Waste Travel

zero waste travel

Now comes the tricky one. Traveling and a zero waste challenge seem to not fit so well in the same sentence and several people have already told me that being a professional traveler and attempting a zero waste lifestyle was an oxymoron. I get it.

The first big issue is obviously flying. If you’re traveling within Europe, it’s easy to pick low cost carrier flights over other means of transportation as they are often the cheapest option. But here’s an incentive to go green: it’s not always the fastest! GoEuro recently published an article showing that 10 European routes are actually faster by train than flying. Trains are a great relaxing commute and always my favorite. I’m also a big fan of bicycle touring, but I understand that you’d have to be on a very long holiday and/or in great shape. Still, consider it as an active out-of-the-box holiday idea of a lifetime and one that aligns most with zero waste living.

A few things to keep in mind for no waste travel:
  • Carry the zero waste tools I mentioned above with you on your trip too! This is often the time and place where you’ll generate the most waste. This things are light and easy to pack. No excuse!
  • Take advantage of most transport companies now having apps and issuing digital tickets. There is absolutely no excuse to print tickets anymore!
  • Solid cosmetics rule! Killing two birds with one stone here: on the one hand, avoiding garbage because you do not have to dispose of tiny plastic bottles, and on the other, you have no problems with fluid restriction when flying. Just take a piece of solid soap instead of shower gel and shampoo.
  • Take an e-reader instead of books. I love my Kindle!
  • Pack minimally. The less space you have, the less you are likely to buy. And the less you buy, the less you have to throw away.  If you’re traveling with a small carry-on bag or backpack, you’ll think twice about which clothes you really need and whether you really need to buy that souvenir. And your holiday will be cheaper. Win!
Are you into zero waste living too? I would love to hear your tips and tricks!

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25 thoughts on “No waste: Tips to ease into a zero waste lifestyle

  1. Jenn

    Thank you so much for these awesome tips. A lot of them I have already adopted but today I ordered a safety razor and reusable eye makeup remover pads. Actually, I ordered breast /nursing pads hah! Always appreciate your useful info, you got me out of wearing underwire bras too. Sports bras forever! 😛

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    These are all such great tips! It’s amazing that you learned from your old habits, couldn’t have been easy. I definitely feel that replacing plastic straws with the bamboo straws that you mentioned can be the first step that we all take! Packing minimally is something I have to try on my next trip 😛

    Reply
  3. Leah

    I have a friend that did this in May and decided to carry it on for the rest of the year. It really is inspiring, and through her (and now you), I’ve discovered several ways to help with the cause. It’s really astonishing how much waste we produce in a single day.

    Reply
  4. Linda

    Our daughter is a big environmentalist. So we have slowly been changing our ways. It is amazing how awareness helps you to change. We have several different re-usable water bottles and just recently bought our own stainless steel straws. I got an e-reader several years ago and between that and my iPad, I only keep electronic docs. Lots of good suggestions for reducing our waste footprint. Wish more countries even did starter things like recycling! As Canadians, we will carry our recyclables with us until we find the right spot to get rid of them.

    Reply
  5. Luda

    These are great tips! I’ve seen some zero-waste challenges going around on the internet (no straw challenge, zero waste baking challenge, etc) but it’s so cool to see being applied in real life 🙂
    Living in San Francisco, I’ve grown up on recycling and being eco-friendly, but I’d like to take it to the next level and do a similar challenge: maybe start with a zero-waste day and slowly build up (like you said, don’t try to change habits all at once!)

    Reply
  6. Heather

    Thank you for writing this, it all starts off with making small conscience efforts! I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing reusable bags to the supermarket for groceries and smaller bags for produce (I hate all those little plastic bags)! There’s a lot of products you highlighted in your kitchen and bathroom routine that I’ve never heard of. I’ll definitely be stocking up on the Ordinary cosmetic jars! I’ve always preferred traveling by rail to flying for the scenery and the extra leg room, but being faster than flying in some European routes is absolutely an added incentive 🙂

    Reply
  7. Punita Malhotra

    Bamboo toothbrush is a new one! I should go hunting for something like that. When one sits down and thinks about the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives, its really mind-blogging!

    Reply
  8. Janine Thomas

    These are such great tips. I always carry a bottle to refill when I travel as well as my own lightweight shopping bags, I never thought about using bars of soap, but that’s an obvious one I am going to implement straight away.

    Reply
  9. Hannah

    If everyone makes small changes, it will make a big difference! Before we left for a recent trip, we invested in large metallic reusable drink bottles, and filled them wherever we visited. It was a small change, but made all the difference. And restaurants are happy to fill them for you. I also carried a reusable shopping bag, to cut down on those awful disposable plastic bags! Great tips here.

    Reply
  10. Kirstie Saldo

    This is a great list! I have trouble finding silicone ziplocks and bamboo straws from where I live but that would really help make this lifestyle change easier! Also, I agree that we shouldnt change our habits all at once. I just dont think it is possible to make a 360 degree turn for this. Great post!

    Reply
  11. Mansoureh

    What a great challenge you took. I didn’t know about some the products like the bamboo toothbrush and bamboo straws. I try to decrease my waste, but I think I am far from making zero waste. But I am going to use some of the tips you mentioned

    Reply

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