While pictures of the mountains of plastic, and waste in our oceans, on our beaches, and in our forests keep circulating through the media many people are trying to look for ways to reduce the amount of waste they are producing. Although “Zero Waste” seems to be somewhat on-trend at the moment and is in many cases certainly a desirable goal, it can feel overwhelming and beyond achievable. Sometimes it can even act as a motivation killer, as it might seem that whatever you can do won’t be enough unless you can live entirely waste-free.
However, for most of us reducing our waste from 100 to 0 overnight is just not realistic. Trying to get there bit by bit and allowing time to readjust to a new way of life seems a lot more achievable for most of us. Even at that, it can be quite a task to get the head in the game and actually make a start. After all, once you start looking at all the areas of your life that lead to unnecessary or avoidable waste that dreaded feeling of overwhelm might well be lurking around the corner again.
So, if you want to be part of the solution, if you want to tackle your household bins and slowly reduce the amount of rubbish you are creating. Here are 12 easy tips for you that will help you to start reducing your waste!
1. Make Conscious Shopping Decisions
Before you start looking at the stuff that leaves your house in rubbish bags and bin lorries, it’s a good idea to tackle the stuff that comes into your home first. The idea is: Buy better/less – Throw less away! This involves slowing down your consumption, limiting your purchases to what you really need/want/use, and opting for items that are sustainably made from eco-friendly materials and sold with as little packaging as possible.
2. Opt for Reusable Bags
Even just one simple change while carrying your shopping home can make a big difference over the years: reusable bags! To avoid getting caught out, you could invest in a few reusable bags and keep them in the boot of your car or in the basket of your buggy. Another great option are net bags, as they are small enough to fit in your handbag but still hold loads of stuff when you need them to.
3. Start Planning Your Meals
Another point which is related to shopping is meal planning. If you know exactly what kind of ingredients you need for the entire week, you are less likely to end up buying things you won’t use, hence your food waste bin should feel a little lighter. Another lovely side effect of meal planning is, that if you manage to stick to your shopping list and manage to do one big shop weekly instead of a few smaller trips to the supermarket you will save yourself a good few euros.
4. Switch to Loose Leaf Tea
In many households in Ireland, tea is essential and is enjoyed several times a day. However, many tea bags contain plastic and need to be disposed of in your general waste bin. Either keep a lookout for plastic-free tea bags, which are either biodegradable (so can go into your home compost bin) or compostable and need to go into your brown bin to end up in an industrial composter. However, the most sustainable and zero waste option is loose leaf tea, which is offered by many popular Irish tea brands. Either brew your tea leaves directly in your pot or use a reusable tea bag made from cloth or a tea strainer if you want to avoid bits in your tea. Used tea leaves can go into your garden compost or brown bin.
5. Start Composting
As I mentioned composting now, starting your own compost bin is another great way to reduce waste or rather use your organic waste to enrich your soil and benefit all those tiny little microorganisms that are so important for fertile earth. If you don’t have a garden or no space for a big compost bin, it might be worth your while to look into worm boxes. This method of composting generally works with smaller-sized boxes, which might be ideal for your balcony or even your kitchen.
6. Learn to Repair and Mend Things
One thing we, unfortunately, owe to the cheap prices of many unethically made products is our throw-away culture. A T-shirt with a small hole, a broken picture frame, or a tear in your bed linen warrants a new purchase. After all, why would you bother mending when it only costs you a few quit to buy new. Changing this mindset and learning how to repair small tears and breaks will ultimately reduce the size of your rubbish bin!
7. Use What You Have
This is by far the easiest rule of a low waste lifestyle: Use what you already have! Despite many clever marketers saying otherwise, reducing waste and living sustainably doesn’t mean you need to invest in a ton of different alternative products. The most sustainable item to use is the one you ALREADY have, even if it is made from plastic and even if it is single-use and disposable – a lot of energy was already spent producing and transporting it, you might as well make that worthwhile. Whenever an item reaches the end of its lifespan make sure to dispose of it correctly and replace it with an eco-friendly alternative. This is not just more sustainable, but the gradual transition also means going green is a lot more affordable as it happens in stages.
8. Buy Wonky Veg or Sign Up to a Veg Box
Did you know that quite a lot of fruit and vegetables in supermarkets are deemed unfit for selling and just get dumped? This happens when vegetables or fruits grew a bit wonky, don’t look like we’d expect, or are getting close to their use-by date (but are still perfectly fine for consumption). Look out for a special reduced section in your local supermarket to buy these products at a fraction of their price before they are thrown out. Many supermarkets and market vendors have also started to sell so-called “Wonky Veg” boxes, which is a selection of produce that tastes perfectly delicious but looks a bit different. If you have the options, why not sign up for a veg box subscription, which is not only full of local produce but also mainly packaged plastic-free!
9. Switch to Reusable Sanitary Products
It is estimated that every menstruating person uses an average of 11,000 disposable sanitary products during their life, which leads to an enormous 200,000 tonnes of sanitary waste every year (in the UK). In order to help reduce this gigantic mountain of rubbish, you can choose to use reusable sanitary products instead, which will last for a number of years before they need to be replaced. Between reusable pads, period underwear, and menstrual cups you are sure to find a solution that suits you!
10. Learn about Recycling
While not having any waste is preferable, recycling is a last resort which is one step above disposing of unrecyclable materials into your general waste bin. Recycling should be something that is easy and straightforward. However, more often than not, it isn’t. In fact, many of us get it wrong when it comes to items that can be recycled, this is not just down to us but also to misleading information on packaging for example. If you are unsure about what materials are recyclable in Ireland, mywaste.ie is a great resource to check. In general though, any items placed in your recycling bin need to be clean, dry, and loose.
11. Opt Out of Paper Mailings/Bills etc.
With adult life comes a constant stream of paper mailings. From bank statements and electricity bills right through to club card mailings and marketing letters. Very often these physical letters act as a great reminder but are in fact unnecessary. Take stock of what kind of post you are getting throughout the month or quarter and see if you can opt for emails or online statements instead to prevent unnecessary paper waste.
12. BYO Take Away Container/Cup
Take away food and coffees add a significant amount of disposable waste to our national landfill bins every year. We have gotten so used to picking up our food, water, coffees, and teas on the go, that the idea of bringing your own containers, bottles, or cups can seem almost a bit alien at first. And while it does require some planning at first, you will get used to it, and adding a cup, a bottle, or a little container to your bag before you leave the house will become just another part of your routine. A routine, that will help you start reducing your waste!