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
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 or purchase solid 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
- 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
- Soap bars rather than shower gel
- Safety razor
- Wood hair brushes
- Compostable cotton buds (I know I should eliminate those fully, but I’m addicted)
- Menstrual cups, reusable pads and period underwear
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Reusable alternative to single use cotton swabs. I have this one from Last Object
- For anything I can’t make, cosmetics in glass jars (I’m loving The Ordinary at the moment)
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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