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!
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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!
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 ;)
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.
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.
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!