10 simple steps towards a zero-waste life…

The planet is on fire, the ice caps are melting, emissions are rocketing and it can be easy to wonder how on earth we as individuals can make a difference.

Well, with a full SIXTY PERCENT (take a moment to absorb that as it’s quite shocking) of greenhouse gas emissions being directly related to household consumption, the good news is that what you do CAN make a massive difference! So how can you start to tackle your household consumption?

You’ve likely heard of ‘zero waste’ living. At first glance it can seem overwhelming and unrealistic. Especially when illustrated with photos of a family’s entire year of waste in a single mason jar! So here’s the guide I wish I’d had when my family set out on our journey a couple of years ago…

Step 1 — a mindset

The most important thing is to treat this like a journey, and to try not to feel overwhelmed at the start. The best trick I’ve discovered is to set myself one change I want to make at a time, and focus on fixing just that one thing. Once I’ve nailed that, I move onto the next one. Some things I can crack in a day or two, others are more challenging and will take weeks or even months. This way it becomes a bit of a game which can be surprisingly fun!

Step 2 — just say ‘no’

Another important thing when embarking upon a less wasteful lifestyle is to embrace the art of saying ‘no’. It’s amazing how at every turn, people seem to want to give you things you don’t actually need. Conferences, parties, events, celebrations, giving is deeply ingrained in us. However if you want to reduce your waste, then the best thing to do is to ever so politely decline — because after it all, it’s not only clutter that you don’t want or need, it’s also the world’s precious resources locked in your home until they inevitably make their way to landfill. The brilliant Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home visualises this in her waste hierarchy below:

Step 3 — eating & drinking on the go

If you live a busy life, this can be a big one. I feel a bit like Dick Whittington, but I now have a zero waste travel pack that goes with me everywhere. It includes a reusable water bottle, a sandwich wrap and linen bag (for getting a sandwich or bagel without packaging), and travel cutlery set. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if you are, you’ll need to include your re-usable coffee cup. And if you’re travelling overseas where the tap water isn’t safe, do look into a water purifying bottle (I love the Grayl one).

Step 4 — waste saving kitchen appliances

The first zero waste change I made was actually a purchase — a Nutri Bullet. And this is one of the best ones I’ve made yet as it not only helps me massively reduce food waste because all the sorry looking fruit and veggies can get chucked into the blender with some yoghurt, and voila, a delicious smoothie! But also because the kids really enjoy it and it’s a great way to sneak more goodness into their diet.

Whilst on the topic of kitchen purchases, another great one I made was a yoghurt maker. I was amazed at just how quick and simple it is to make homemade, and this one kills two birds with one stone as it’s much cheaper than buying, and it’s zero plastic waste (as we get milk in glass bottles from Milk & More). I’ve also invested in a pasta machine for fresh pasta too. Now obviously all this talk of ‘buying stuff’ doesn’t exactly fit with the ethos of sustainable living and zero waste, so wherever possible I like to re-use what I already have or buy second hand; but that isn’t always possible and so sometimes the ends do justify the means.

Step 5— food packaging & shopping

Whilst we’re still in the kitchen, pretty early on in our journey I got some bread bags and string produce bags from Etsy, and rustled up all my spare tupperware and takeaway containers, and now I can get all our bread, fruit, veggies, meat, fish and cheese without any plastic packaging every week, hurrah! Thankfully the supermarkets and local independents are becoming much more accommodating if you ask to use your own containers — the key thing is plucking up the courage to ask in the first place!

Step 6— the bathroom

Our bathroom was a nightmare vision of plastic. The first switch we made was a bamboo toothbrush (Matana) — nice and easy, and feels great given that every single plastic toothbrush that has ever been made, still exists, and will continue to exist for about another 400 years. Next was toothpaste in a jar (Truthpaste, or Ben & Anna’s if minty’s your thing), followed by bars of soap. I’d always associated bar soap with drying your skin and being quite unpleasant to use, but I’ve been really surprised at how much things have moved on, and now it seems we’re spoiled for choice. Moisturisers, serums, deodorant and even makeup can now all be bought in glass/metal/cardboard/re-fillable packaging, you just need to look for it. And my local organic hairdresser is very happy to refill my shampoo & conditioner containers, which was a massive win as the hair bars never really worked for me unfortunately.

Step 7— clothes shopping

There’s no shortage of horrifying information about just how polluting and destructive the clothing industry is. My OLIO co-founder Saasha inspired me on this one when she vowed not to buy any new clothes other than underwear. I decided to give that a go, and haven’t looked back either — although I do make the occasional exception when supporting affordable sustainable fashion brands, or having the odd rummage through end of line stuff in TK Maxx.

Step 8— feminine products

For the lady readers, a transformation on the personal front was switching to the Diva Cup, backed up with Thinx knickers — no more toxic, wasteful, expensive tampons — yay! And also no more plastic — did you know that the average pack of pads contains the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags?! This is another area where there’s been a long overdue boom in innovation, but I really encourage experimentation to find what works for you as it’s so personal.

Step 9— cleaning the house

The cleaning industry really is an incredible testament to the powers of modern marketing, as we’ve been persuaded that we need a different cleaning product for every single room and surface! But when you do your research it becomes clear that there are just a couple of staples that enable you to have a sparkling home from top to bottom. They include baking soda, vinegar and citric acid. However if making your own cleaning products isn’t your thing, then you can always see if there’s a local retailer offering refillables or check out newer brands such as Spruce and Everdrop.

Step 10 — parties & celebrations

Hosting a party, celebration or family gathering can often lead to depressing amounts of waste. I’ve experimented with newspaper and pretty cloths for wrapping gifts; homemade Christmas crackers (save the inner tubes from your toilet rolls and you can buy the snaps online); zero waste goody bags for the kids parties (before I decided that goody bags are a terrible idea and agreed with the kids that we’d donate to Oxfam instead); and giving experiences instead of things. It does require a little bit of thought, but you invariably end up with something that’s far more personal, and often your pocket is much lighter too.

Although our family is still on our journey and far from ‘there’, I’ve been amazed at just how much progress we’ve made! We now put out our rubbish bin once a month instead of once a week, and we’re saving loads of money too. That’s because we’ve found that dramatically reducing our meat consumption and buying loose for example have yielded massive savings, and these have only somewhat been offset by more expensive personal care products and ‘investment’ purchases. Whilst it can be easy to beat yourself up when plastic does sneak into your life (hello crisps and sweets!) I try and remind myself of Anne Marie Bonneau’s words when she said: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

If you’re looking for more guidance and inspiration on your journey, then please do check out the GOALS section of the OLIO app, where you’ll find hundreds of simple tips and tricks to guide you on your way. And remember, there’s no right or wrong way, just do what’s best for you and your family, and know that every single step counts!

Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.