Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

What does zero waste living actually look like on a daily basis? We all have a different version, and this is mine. I quit plastic in 2012 and began working towards zero waste not long after that, so I’ve been living this way a long time (over 4 years!). I’ve made so many changes to the way I do things and the choices I make, which all seem normal now. But of course, they are completely normal! ;)

These habits are ingrained and I don’t really have to think about them. However, for people starting out, it isn’t always obvious how to get from where we are to where we want to be.

It certainly wasn’t a straight line for me! It is so much easier looking back than looking ahead.

I thought I’d share a typical “day in the life” to explain some of the zero waste choices we make everyday. This is what zero waste living looks like for us.

Zero Waste Living: A Day in the Life

Our breakfast is usually coffee (made with a coffee machine – not a pod one! – that has a milk steamer) and porridge, a smoothie or sometimes good old toast and avocado.

The coffee machine was a second-hand freebie and we use it every day. We buy our coffee directly from a local cafe who grind their own beans and we take a reusable bag. We buy oats from our local bulk store, bread from a local bakery. When we started out we purchased milk in returnable bottles, but now we make our own cashew milk and use that in both the coffee and the porridge.

When it comes to the dishes we buy dishwashing liquid from our local bulk store. We take a glass jar or bottle and fill it up. I’ve never tried to make my own – sometimes it’s easier to buy things.We also buy laundry detergent from the bulk store.

I have a wooden dish brush with compostable bristles, a wooden pot brush, a scourer made from coconut coir and a bottle brush made from wire and coconut coir. I also have a plastic brush that came with my food processor before my plastic-free days (pre-2012). I will use it until it breaks, and then no more plastic for me!

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Our adopted greyhound called Hans lives with us, and we take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He prefers to do his business in the park a 10 minute walk from our house rather than in our yard.  I pick it up using old newspaper (usually the community newspaper that my husband likes to read first), carry it home (!) and we put it in our homemade dog poo worm farm.

Our bathroom routine is pretty simple. We decluttered a lot of products once we realised that they were unnecessary for us. We use bar soap for washing: I buy a big 2kg block packaging-free from a local lady and chop it into bars. My husband also uses this for his hair; I use rye flour (or occasionally bicarb) and white vinegar to rinse. I buy both of these from the bulk store.

Bulk Soap Chopped Into Bars Zero Waste Natural Beauty Treading My Own Path

Skincare Regime Zero Waste Bathroom Products Treading My Own Path

We use almond oil as a moisturiser. We use different deodorants as my husband reacts to bicarb and I don’t – I make both of them using ingredients purchased in bulk. I also make my own toothpaste and sunscreen. It sounds like a lot of effort, but most of these recipes are simply mixing a few things together in a jar.

I have a body brush which I use to exfoliate, and I make coffee scrub using the waste coffee grounds collected from a nearby cafe. (We put the rest of the coffee grounds in our compost as it is a great compost activator.)

DIY Coffee Scrub Treading My Own Path

I use a Diva cup (a reusable menstrual cup) and a reusable cloth pad.

The bamboo toothbrush is almost seen as a zero waste essential, but we no longer use them. We found the bristles falling out and washing down the drain too frustrating. Instead we have toothbrushes with reusable heads that need replacing once every six months. The toothbrush head and the packaging is currently recycled by Terracycle in Australia. (We got these in 2014. There are now many more bamboo toothbrushes on the market: it may be possible to find a better brand than the one we used to use. As we have these we will continue to use them until they no longer make the replacement heads.)

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

We buy toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, an Australian company that donate 50% of their profits to water charities and don’t package their paper in plastic. I also use the wrappers to pick up Hans’ business. I’ve used the toilet rolls to make seedling pots.

We don’t have tissues in our home. I have 3 hankies, and if I’m desperate I’ll use toilet paper and compost it. Yes, used tissues are compostable!

I work from home, but my husband heads out and he always takes his lunch with him in a stainless steel lunchbox (or occasionally, a Pyrex dish). Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel

Both of us keep a bamboo cutlery set (with a metal reusable straw added in), a water bottle, reusable coffee cup, a reusable shopping bag and reusable produce bags in our bags. They don’t weigh much or take up much space, and you never know when they might come in handy!

If we are heading the the bulk store we will sometimes take glass jars, and always extra produce bags and reusable shopping bags. My husband works close to our local bulk store so he tends to make a few trips a week rather than doing one big shop – it’s easier for him to carry home, and he gets less flustered!

We get a vegetable box delivered from a local company once a fortnight. It is plastic-free and organic, and we top up from our local independent store or the local farmers markets. We eat a plant-based diet, meaning we eat a lot of vegetables, pulses and grains. Oh, and chocolate!

Organic Collective Veg Box Treading My Own Path Organic Veg Box Delivery Treading My Own Path

Our veggie garden is beginning to be more productive and we’ve had lots of additional produce from there.

It’s easy to find everything we want to eat without packaging. We have so much choice that if we can’t find a food item without packaging, we don’t buy it. There are two exceptions that I can think of: we buy capers in a jar (at my husband’s insistence – we found a big size that lasts for 6 months) and alcohol.

We live very close to an amazing off-license/liquor store that sells a number of beers without packaging, and is always rotating their stock. My husband has two refillable growlers and fills them there, but he does also buy beer in glass bottles and cans occasionally (by which I mean, more than I’d like ;)

Graincru zero waste beer Treading My Own Path

The store also sells white wine in bulk, and we have purchased that, but we tend to buy wine in regular wine bottles. We don’t buy it often – it is generally limited to when we have guests.

We have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on our letterbox which eliminates a lot of the unnecessary advertising we receive. We have turned all of our bills to paperless, but we do still receive post. There are some works happening nearby and we have received at least 10 notices in the last 6 months telling us about them!

I would love to tell you that I have a paperless office, but I sit here surrounded on both sides by paper. I don’t buy any paper, nor have a printer – and still it comes! Often I use old letters, invoices and the back of used envelopes to make notes, and then I later put the info on my computer and recycle the paper. (I have been told that it is a better use of resources to recycle paper rather than compost it, and so that is what I do.)

All of the furniture in our home is second-hand, although not everything we own. However, we do always check the second-hand listings before buying anything new. We are usually happy to wait before buying, just in case.

Our clothes are a mix of pre-zero waste purchases, second hand charity shop finds, second hand eBay finds and new ethical/organic products. I’m working on making my wardrobe 100% biodegradable and natural fibres (or as close as I can) and whilst I love second hand, I also want to support small producers who are trying to do the right thing. It’s a balance.

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

We tend to only drink water (from the tap), tea or coffee, and my husband – beer. We buy loose leaf tea (from the bulk store) and use a teapot (well technically the thermos flask).

Our dinners are usually rice, quinoa or potatoes, and occasionally pasta, with vegetables and lentils/pulses. We eat a lot of nuts, too. I could dedicate a whole other post to what we eat (and maybe I will!). We always make enough for leftovers the following day, and maybe even a couple of days. Any leftovers that won’t be eaten soon go in the freezer – usually in a glass jar.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

If we go out for dinner we always take a container with us, and our reusables. You never know when you might be caught out! We rarely get takeaway as we prefer to dine in, although we do get takeaway pizza a couple of times a year. The empty boxes go in our compost bin.

Our home cleaning routine is pretty simple. We use water, vinegar, bicarb and a scrubber for almost everything. Clove oil is great in the bathroom as it kills mould. We have a mop (a metal frame with removable washable cloths) and a dustpan for the floors. We still have a vacuum cleaner, too.

We are both members of our local library, and my husband must be their best client! We can borrow magazines, DVDs and CDs in addition to books, and he has almost always maxed out his loan allowance (of 15 items!). We do not have a television, and we use the laptop to watch DVDs.

We empty our compost scraps daily into our compost bin. We have a small wastepaper basket which we use for our recycling, and we currently empty this about once a month.

What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Was there anything I missed off the list? Anything you’d like to know more about? How does this compare with your own lifestyle? Are there any changes there that you think will be easy for you to implement? Are there any changes there that you’d like to suggest to me? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

52 Responses to Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

  1. Hi Lindsay,
    I appreciate the inspo and commitment across that board there! Well done mate…

    I’m curious regards manchester–sheets, quilts, towels, face washers, hand-towels, ( I love these items, and definitely use natural fibres); do you guys but them new?

    And do you have artwork? Make artwork? Get given artwork? Other dekkys–? Or minimalism follows the lifestyle choice?
    I dont like clutter and I love evrything about original artworks..

    Cheers, SL

    • Hi Su-lee! Actually, all our towels and bedding have been given to us by my mother-in-law, second hand. She is always (and I mean, always!) refreshing her colour schemes and what she considers tatty, we do not! In fact, there are so many towels that we have had to pass some on to the Dog Refuge. I did buy a base sheet for our bed new: it was Fair Trade organic cotton. But other than that, all hand-me-downs.

      Artwork, yes – a few prints that I’ve bought, and a couple of pictures that I brought over from the UK. I bought some frames new: aluminium and glass. I’d happily buy second-hand frames, and think that there are lots around, but sometimes it is hard to find more unusual sizes. I quite like blank walls but my husbands likes stuff on them, so we compromise. We had the prints for quite a few months before we gave in and bought new frames. Ornaments and other decoration – not at all!

  2. Not sure if I just haven’t found it or if you haven’t posted it – your homemade suncream – have you posted a recipe? Would be keen on that – but would also like to know if, like your toothpaste, you’ve had it…verified (not sure that’s the right word!). Thanks! :-)

  3. “These habits are ingrained and I don’t really have to think about them. However, for people starting out, it isn’t always obvious how to get from where we are to where we want to be.
    It certainly wasn’t a straight line for me! It is so much easier looking back than looking ahead.”

    Thank you for saying this! Sometimes Zero Waste writers downplay what a big adjustment the lifestyle can be. Some swaps are quick and easy, and some require whole new skills.

    This was a lovely read. Thank you for all your hard work.

    • Hi Rebekah, thank you so much for your lovely comment! Changing habits is always hard – just the effort of consciously remembering to do things, before they are ingrained in our subconscious, takes energy. And changing shopping habits, trying new things, learning new recipes – it all takes energy!

      I think that many zero wasters are so enthusiastic about the changes they’ve made that they want to impart that enthusiasm on others, and so try to emphasize the ease. Of course it is easy once you’re there and the habits are ingrained! And when we look back, things always seem easier than they were at the time. We tend not to remember pain ;)

      Glad you enjoyed it :)

  4. Thank you for taking the time to share this. It really is great to have an example to aim for. I’d never thought of buying a block of soap. So far I’ve been buying small blocks in simple (plastic free) paper wrap (that I compost) but buying a large block would be even better. Now to find a local source. I started using a bamboo toothbrush last year and get on well with them. I live in the U.K. so perhaps they are different, although all surely come from Asia. I buy from Save Some Green online. They come in a paper wrap and are fab. My biggest challenge is food packaging. A lack of bulk choices and need for more cooking from scratch, that I’m working on, are my problems. I’m about to try a veggie box scheme but it isn’t completely plastic free unfortunately. It is organic though so better than my current situation. I’m getting there slowly but surely.

    • Hi Clare, thanks for taking the time to reply! Glad you found it useful :) I love buying blocks of soap – I store it in my linen cupboard so the fragrance imparts onto my towels. I’m wondering with the bamboo toothbrushes whether I should have tried a different brand, but as we have these now, we use them. What brand of bamboo toothbrush do you use?

      Bulk shopping is definitely more challenging in the UK. I lived in Bristol for many years and there are bulk shops there (although I didn’t utilise them nearly as much as I should have) but I know they aren’t common.

      I used to get my veg box from Riverford. They did have some things in plastic, although most of the punnets they used were cardboard, so it was only the occasional bag. That was a good few years ago, mind! I learned a lot about eating seasonally from getting a veg box, as well as making meals from scratch. Often they will include a recipe for using up things in the box, which is helpful. Oh, and learn to make sauerkraut (it’s dead simple). UK veg boxes are ALWAYS full of cabbage! ;p

  5. Hi Lindsay,

    Thanks for being an inspiration. My wife and I have started reducing our waste a couple of weeks ago and it is always great to see different ways and approaches to do that.

    I actually have a tip for you (and the readers of course) related to this post (which is great by the way :) ). So, we are also using bulk soap for washing just like you, but we actually multiply its volume by making it a liquid. We warm up 5 litres of water (our biggest pot), no need to boil, just warm enough to melt the soap. Then we grind 200 gr of soap with a cheese grinder into it. When the soap is molten, we bottle the liquid and let it cool. From 200 gr solid soap we have 5 litres of laundry detergent/liquid soap/shampoo, you name it!

    cheers,
    Zoltan

    • Hi Zoltan, that’s great news! (And thank you for your lovely compliment!)

      Thanks for sharing your tip! I’ve thought about this, but have never got round to it. I find with zero waste that there’s always a list as long as my arm of things I want to try, and that is on there. Some day! :)

  6. Thank you for sharing! This is so inspiring!
    What do you do with unsolicited gifts? Both useful that came in packaging or worse case scenario unwanted gifts. All of my friends and relatieves are aware of my please-no-gifts policy (not only I’m aspiring zero waster, but also very hard to please), but my mom and dad won’t give up and keep buying crap for me and my kids.

    • Hi Gayla, glad you liked it!

      Unsolicited gifts – ha! My family know very well that I do not want gifts. My in-laws are now resigned to the fact that vouchers (for our local bulk store or a favourite restaurant or cafe) are acceptable, but everything else is not. My mum finds it hard, but as she is in the UK and I am in Australia she accepts it more than she might if I lived locally. My sister (who is staying with us on holidays from London) gave me a hand carved wooden spoon with no packaging as a gift, and that was the only Christmas present I got! (Which I like, so it stays.)

      Recently my husband’s grandad gave us some chocolates and other overpackaged, preservative filled food-related products from the cheap store as a gift. We donate them straight to the Food Bank. I actually feel guilty donating that kind of food to the Food Bank, but I figure other people might appreciate it. If we receive anything that we do not want and know we won’t use, it is given to someone we know will use it, donated to the charity shop or given away via Gumtree straightaway. I no longer feel guilty about this. My position on gifts is clear, and if others feel they have to satifsfy their own desire to give a gift, that is not a reason for me to keep it. The act of giving is in the gift, not the keeping.

      As an aside, a few years ago my mother saw on my eBay account that I was selling gifts I’d received for Christmas. (I was actually decluttering before moving to Australia – which hadn’t been on the radar at Christmas). I think she was a bit put-out, and there is a running “joke” in my family not to buy me gifts because I’ll just sell them on eBay – but actually, it was a good way to stop people buying me stuff! So if you’re up for a bit of emotional tug-of-war, you could tell your family that you’ve donated everything they gave you as you didn’t need it. They might be offended, but they will probably think twice before buying pointless tat next time – and they will realise that you are serious. Of course, you know your family and whether this will work or backfire spectacularly!

      The other thing to say is, it takes time. It takes time for you to be clear on your boundaries and what you consider acceptable or not, and time for others to adjust. I promise it will get easier! :)

      (Apologies for the essay!)

      • Thank you for taking your time to answer! I appreciate that. I’m in the same shoes – giving away / selling whatever I don’t need. Those gifts don’t even make it further than my AWAY box LOL but I feel sorry for so much money wasted. I love money = my servants, and hate when it’s abused, that’s what I see when people buy unnessessary crap and then wine about not been financially independent..
        But what an encouragement is to see you have tamed you family’s habits :) It gives me hope too. I had to be conventionally rude by telling people I don’t want anything and it did help to a sertain degree.

        • I agree completely – I hate people wasting their money, but at the end of they day that is there choice, and I cannot be clearer about not wanting gifts! If you can find some kind of compromise (like vouchers for restaurants or tickets) it can help them satisfy their needs without junking up the planet! A good stepping stone towards nothing at all…

  7. I live far from any bulk stores…. I am struggling with waste. Also, I’ve been pondering that buying from a bulk, the store ends up recycling the plastic containers of oil or whatever…. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the stores would get their containers filled by the producers?!

    • Hi Amy, I feel your struggle! I realise that I’m very lucky having access to so many good bulk store locally – it does make things easier. But don’t give up! I wrote this a while ago which you may find useful: http://treadingmyownpath.com/2016/07/07/can-you-live-plastic-free-without-bulk-stores/

      As for the packaging in bulk stores, yes, often it is plastic. But I see it as a first step. As more and more people adopt this lifestyle, producers will think more about using returnable and refillable containers. But if they supply a bunch of different places and only one wants to return the containers, there’s little incentive. I saw a cafe the other day that said they bought their milk from the dairy in 20 litre returnable/reusable pails – how awesome is that?! This lifestyle is the way of the future, so we will get there, in time.

      At least with bulk stores, it is one container rather than hundreds or thousands of small ones. It is less packaging overall. And of course, the more local we shop, the less packaging is important.

      If you have other friends or family locally who are interested in zero waste, you could look at starting a bulk buying group. So you order big packages of stuff (20kg sacks of flour, 20 litre drums of oil, whatever you use regularly) and then you divide it up amongst yourselves. It is still packaging, but less overall. You could look on Facebook to find likeminded people in your area.

      Hope that was some help to you! :)

  8. Thanks for the great post. I’m interested in the comment you made about recycling paper rather than composting it. Can you explain a little bit more about this please? Thanks!

    • Thanks Emily! That is a good question. I have heard from many people in the waste industry locally, and read various things online, that all say that recycling paper is a better use of energy and resources than composting it. All recycled paper helps avoid making virgin paper, which is hugely energy consuming. I know that composting paper makes our personal bins have less waste, but I would rather make the best use of resources.

      The paper I do compost is anything soiled from food, or any small scraps that would probably get lost in the recycling stream. I keep cardboard to make sheet mulch if I need it (basically, covering weeds then topping with woodchip to protect the soil and ideally smother weeds). Other than that, it gets recycled.

      Hope that helps! :)

  9. Thanks for the very helpful posts Lindsay. I think you are great. You have inspired both my wife and I to go zero waste, or at least as close to it as possible! Your blogs are really going to be helpful getting us there so keep em coming.

  10. A small, possibly unworkable idea : try growing nasturtiums in your garden. They’re edible, and they fix nitrogen (good for your other vegies). The other reason I’m mentioning this though is because pickling the seeds is a good substitute for capers apparently! And when you’re next in Melbourne I’ll feed you and hubby all the bulk capers you can eat!

    • I was actually planning to do that Rachel – and then our neighbour kindly weeded all the nasturtiums I was nurturing. He thought they were weeds! The joy of communal living ;) I did not know they were nitrogen fixers.

      Wait – you have bulk capers in Melbourne?! My husband will be booking his flights!!!

      • Oh no, one person’s tasty vegetable in this case can indeed be seen as a weed! Here’s hoping you can re-establish them and your neighbour is interested in the benefits nasturtiums can bring.
        Let your hubby know bulk capers can be bought at Friends of the Earth Coop (312 Smith Street Collingwood). I *think* they’re from Long Lane Capers (http://www.longlanecapers.com/) because they’re salted, not in brine. I take no responsibility for any overdosing he may suffer given I assume he won’t be able to transport any back to Perth…

  11. I love this post! You have included some great information. I’m on a zero waste mission for our home but it’s a long process. Last year I focused on our bathroom waste and this year I want to focus on our kitchen packaging waste as it seems to be getting out of control.

    So glad I found this post.

  12. I have been slowly working my way towards our family being zero-free but am finding it quite a challenge when my family don’t feel as passionate about this journey as I do. I don’t want to be preaching to them or lecturing and would appreciate any suggestions you may have Lindsay, on how I can encourage them to be more mindful of the wasteful society we live in and our part in making a positive change.

    Also, we recently relocated back to Perth and I am in the process of starting a local co-op like the one I was a member of in Brisbane and wondered whether the lady you source your bulk soap from sells to the public or wholesale? I’m wanting to try and stay as local as possible and support our amazing West Australian producers/growers.

    • Hi Tammi, thanks for your comment! Without knowing more about your family it’s hard to make suggestions – is it your partner, or children, or extended family? Or everyone?! If it’s the kids, how old are they? Clearly if they are young, it’s a different ball game to if they are teenagers! Overall, don’t stress too much about them for now, and just focus on your own changes. If they ask you to buy plastic-packaged stuff and you don’t want to, you could always tell them that you can’t make their choices for them but you’re not buying it. But they are welcome to use their pocket money on it/go to the shops themselves! Even giving everyone their own bin, and telling them that when it’s full, they have to take it outside and empty it… All these things makes them realise that they have some power and also some responsibility, and it takes the pressure off your shoulders a little.

      The best way to encourage change is to lead by example, so make sure they see you enjoying making less waste, and they see how easy it is. I hope that helps!

      The lady I buy my soap from is called Marie from Earth Products. She sells to the public and wholesale. It amazes me how many people buy her soap blocks, cut them up, put their own stamp on them and pretend they made them! Originally it was a wholesale business, but now she has a retail side too. She’s in The Vines. Lovely lady :) I get all my refills from her too, to avoid the packaging.

      The coop sounds great!

  13. Great information , thanks!
    Have you ever considered using ” family cloth” ( re- usable scraps of fabric) instead of toilet paper?

  14. A most inspiring and informative post Lindsay! I’m going to read it again and follow the links to your other posts, making notes as I go. I’ve been on a food journey for a number of years and am happy with my plant-based diet, but I have a way to go on further reducing my waste. Thank you for your tips :-)

  15. Thank you for the service you’re providing to myself and others working toward zero waste households! You don’t mention pets. Do you have a cat or dog? Do your readers? If so, a whole new facet of sustainability comes into play. There’s a lot to be said about environmentally friendly food, toys, grooming products and healing. And here’s the scoop on sustainability at the back end: How to safely compost and recycle pet waste https://www.newsociety.com/Books/P/The-Pet-Poo-Pocket-Guide

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