So, it’s 2021 (gulp). It’s another new year, you’ve decided either:
A. You want to start reducing your waste;
B. You want to further reduce your waste;
C. You want to get back on the waste reducing band wagon.
Obviously, there is secret option D: None of the above, but you wouldn’t have bothered reading this far if you didn’t have any interest in reducing the amount of waste you create.
As it’s January and January is all about (cliché) new beginnings and starting over, this is going to be aimed at waste reduction newbies. BUT, don’t let that put you off if you don’t class yourself as a beginner. You never know what eco habits might have fallen by the wayside, we could all use a refresher, myself included. Or this will serve as confirmation that you have already nailed the green life and you can put your homemade socks on, rest your feet on your second hand foot stool and spend the rest of the day basking in your own eco greatness.
In the beginning
A lot of books recommend starting with an audit of your bin (books on zero waste lifestyles not your crime thrillers and your chick lit). Lay down an old sheet, because if you’re purchasing a new sheet to do your bin audit, you’re doing it wrong. Empty the contents of your bin onto said sheet ready to trawl through your rubbish.
No, I’m not doing it either. Keep it simple. I think we know for the most part what we throw in our bins and it’s likely the same week in week out. So, pick something and consider whether there is an alternative. For example, if there is usually some cling film in your bin, think about what you use it for and whether it’s really needed or whether something that won’t end up in landfill could do the job instead. Cling film is used to wrap up leftovers or packed lunches, instead pop your food in a reusable container. Job done. Cling film eliminated.
Thank you, next
Another place to start if you don’t like the what’s in my bin game is each time an item runs out, think about what you’re going to replace it with. When you pump out the last of the hand soap, consider the alternatives. Could you replace it with a local, unpackaged bar of soap that will create no waste? Remember there are options. No local unpackaged soap? Consider a bar of soap wrapped in paper or card (something recyclable), consider soap in a plastic dispenser that is refillable, or soap in a plastic dispenser that isn’t refillable but can be purchased in bulk or a dispenser that you could then put to use elsewhere.
Use up what you already have (as with the newly purchased sheet for the bin audit you don’t actually need to do, don’t be throwing out perfectly good soap in a plastic dispenser to buy a locally made unpackaged bar of soap), once you have actually run out of something have a look online and see what the less wasteful alternatives are.
Food glorious food
One of the reasons I imagine some people might not want to spread the contents of their bin across their living room floor, is they would end up with veg peel, soggy salad leaves and meat carcases matted into their shag pile. UK household food waste alone is off the chart. Best option, grab yourself a food caddie (fancy name for a tub to shove unused food in) and compost your food waste. If you cannot utilise the food once composted at home, your local council will take it (for free) and make compost out of it. Research your own local composting options.
If composting isn’t an option for you, reduce the amount of food that would be composted (worth doing even if composting is an option). Implement the following: meal plan, shop with a list, cook only what you can eat, save and use leftovers, store food correctly and utilise your freezer to maximise shelf life, eat what needs using up first, pop an ingredient into a search engine even ones you think cannot be used (veg stock made from veg scraps).
Dial it up a notch
Nothing left in your bin? Or at least nothing left you’re willing to part with (ahem, halloumi packaging). Take a look in your recycling. Yes, recycling is better than landfill, but particularly in terms of plastic, recycling is really downcycling.
Perhaps previously you purchased grapes at a supermarket in a plastic tray with a plastic film lid on them and you’ve since realised, you can purchase them loose in your local greengrocer. Don’t pop them in one of the paper bags they provide and then recycle the bag at home, just take them loose (or bring a reusable produce bag with you to take them home in if you don’t like them loose). Recycling is an option, but its not the solution, we will only get so far if we are basically just tipping our landfill bin into our recycling bin.
Waste that doesn’t go in the bin
Remember waste isn’t just about the physical, we can also reduce our electricity, water, gas and petrol consumption. Shorter showers, more layers and walking or using public transport are great places to start. The focus doesn’t have to be completely removing something, I am not suggesting (and never will) that you forego your cup of tea or coffee to limit your electricity and water consumption when boiling a kettle. Just think it through.
If you boil water for a drink, use it, don’t wonder off and then return later and re-boil it. Boil only what you are actually going to use, don’t fill the entire kettle and then make yourself an individual espresso with it. If you want to cook some sausages (veggie obvs) for tomorrow’s work lunch, pop them in the oven when you are cooking dinner, don’t run the oven on two separate occasions if you don’t need to.
In an unpackaged composted nutshell
The easiest way to reduce your waste and the best place to start… every single time you go to put something in any kind of bin think about whether you could have done something differently to postpone, reduce the frequency of or avoid altogether this outcome.