New Habits: 8 Micro Actions to Reduce Rubbish in 2021
A brand new year is about to roll around the corner, and for many of us that means thinking about our dreams, aspirations and plans of what we’d like to see, do and accomplish over the next twelve months. Whilst I don’t set New Years Resolutions, I do like to use this time between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year that was and think about the year that’s ahead.
Before I get any further, let me reassure you: this isn’t going to be one of those posts about “achieving everything you ever wanted in 2021” or “having your best year ever”.
Really, all the big things that we want to achieve and accomplish are the result of taking lots of micro actions. So rather than focus on the big picture, the goal at the end, I’m going to focus on the small things – the journey itself – and encourage you to consider doing so too.
In my experience, it’s a better journey.
For example, if we’d like to reduce our rubbish or plastic-waste in 2018, declaring that we’ll “be zero waste” is a huge step. It sets a high (and possibly unrealistic) expectation of ourselves, adds unnecessary pressure and can feel overwhelming before it’s even begun.
That’s not a recipe for a fun ride.
Rather than make grandiose goals, try thinking about the small steps that need to be taken. Break it down into things that you can start on straightaway. You will start making progress, and that will give you the confidence to take the next step when you’re ready.
It’s not meant to happen overnight. It’s a process, and a journey, and there’s so much to learn along the way. Why would you want to rush?
Here’s some ideas to get you started.
8 Micro Actions You Can Take to Reduce Rubbish in 2021
1. Make 1 Food Item from Scratch
You do not need to be a great baker or masterchef to go zero waste. Being able to make things from scratch is a useful skill, but it has nothing to do with being good at cooking. if you can stir stuff, or use a rolling pin, or chop, chances are you can make something from scratch.
Think about the things you use, and the packaging that you end up with, and find out if you can make any of those things rather than buy them ready-made.
Some things will be far too complicated, take too much time and you won’t think it is worth it.
But other things are very simple, and you might start to wonder why you ever purchased them in the first place.
Simple things to start with (that take no skills and very little time) include pesto, hummus, apple cider vinegar and yoghurt. You could consider getting a (second-hand) breadmaker. Cookies are much easier (and quicker) to make than cakes, and ridiculously tasty.
Just try it.
2. DIY Just 1 Bathroom Product
Food packaging and bathroom products account for the majority of our weekly household rubbish and recycling. By swapping one purchased product for a DIY alternative, you will save a huge amount of packaging over a lifetime.
It isn’t about making DIY alternatives to everything. I buy (rather than make) bar soap, laundry powder and dishwashing liquid. I have good local options (I buy my laundry powder and dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods, my local bulk store) and I don’t have the time or inclination to make everything.
I do make my own toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser and sunscreen. I tried making mascara once and it was a disaster, so I decided not to bother again, but there are plenty of recipes for DIY makeup if its something you wear.
3. Support Bulk Stores
Bulk stores are a great way to shop packaging free, and many bulk stores are dedicated to reducing waste upstream too. This means that as well as reducing the waste for their customers, they are working with suppliers to reduce the waste generated before the stock arrives at the hands of the customers.
Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Not everyone can afford to shop at bulk stores. But there’s still steps that we can take. Choosing to make a trip to a bulk store out-of-town every month, or every two months, is one option. Choosing a small number of staples to buy at the bulk store, even if the rest of the groceries needs to be purchased elsewhere and in packaging due to budget or practical constraints.
Everything that we do makes a difference. If an entire bulk shop isn’t going to work for you, don’t write them off entirely. It’s not all or nothing. Even making the commitment to buy a couple of things occasionally will help: it will help you reduce your waste, and help support bulk stores so they can thrive into the future.
4. Choose (and Use) Reusables
Most of us own reusables, but it takes practice to remember them, and remember to use them. Commit to using reusable shopping bags, or a reusable coffee cup, or not forgetting your reusable water bottle.
If using reusables is something that’s new to you, don’t expect perfection all at once. Choose one thing to get into the habit of remembering, and work up from there.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, then think about investing in some reusable produce bags, or taking your Tupperware or Pyrex next time you go to the bakery or deli counter. If a reusable straw is something that will help you reduce waste, invest in one.
Beeswax wraps or sandwich wraps can help reduce clingwrap (more on alternatives for food wrap can be found here).
Glass jars are a very good alternative for all sorts of things.
Just choose one thing to start with.
5. Buy Local and Support Independent Stores
The more local we can buy things, the better: less fuel, less packaging, and keeping money in the local economy. Whether it is food items (locally grown vegetables and fruit), or supporting a local greengrocer; whether it is using an independent bricks-and-mortar store; whether it is supporting local artisans, there are plenty of ways to support local businesses.
Most of us would agree that we don’t want to support sweatshops and unethical businesses, yet when it comes to shopping, it can be tempting to search out the lowest price, and forget about the bigger picture.
That’s not to say we can all afford organic hand-stitched everything. It’s a balance.
Buying everything local and from independent stores might seem too much of a stretch. In which case, consider making a smaller commitment.
What about doing the big shop at the supermarket, but the top-up shop from the independent grocer? Using the Farmers Market for two months in summer? Buying jeans from the department store, but jumpers from the local mill? Buying books from the bricks-and-mortar bookshop rather than the online giants?
Commit to one change, and start there.
6. Tell Businesses When They Do Something Good
It’s oh-so easy to tell businesses when they are doing something wrong, but we often forget to congratulate the ones that do the right thing. Particularly when the right thing isn’t the easiest thing, or the thing that makes the most economical business sense.
When businesses put their values before profit, or the environment before convenience, we should let them know that we noticed, and that we thank them for their efforts.
This isn’t something that I do often, but it’s something that I want to do more of in the coming year. I see so many businesses doing great things, but do I tell them? Not as often as I should.
If you see something good – and it can be as simple as a cafe using jars of sugar on the tables rather than individual sachets, or as committed as refusing single-use disposable packaging – tell the business that you noticed, and you like what they do.
Let’s celebrate the good guys.
7. Think About Who (or What) You Can Influence
Power and influence isn’t just about being a politician or having a huge social media following. Most of us have the ability to influence others, whether it’s in our workplaces, social clubs, friendship circles, local groups, the council, or our favourite cafe.
I often think that the person who does the stationery order for a business is in quite a position of power, when it comes to reducing waste. Or the person that runs the community garden cake sale. Or the person who chooses the venue for book club.
These things all matter.
Making good choices around these things is about helping others to make better choices too. Starting conversations and opening eyes to new ways of doing things.
Some things can’t be changed, and some people won’t be changed. Family can be the toughest. (You can find tips for dealing with friends and family here.) Rather than trying to fight a battle with those that are reluctant to change, see if there’s somewhere else in your life where you could have a positive impact, and focus on that.
8. Join In.
Community is important. It’s a way to share ideas, support others and be supported, meet like-minded people and enrich our lives. The plastic-free and zero waste communities are two examples of people coming together to support a common cause.
It’s a great feeling to know that others care about the same things as we do.
How you choose to get involved is up to you, but there are plenty of options.
On one hand, reading blogs and commenting is a great first step, as are joining Facebook groups and other online networks. If you can’t find an online group that works for you, or would prefer to connect with local people so you have the opportunity to meet in real life, consider starting your own Facebook group.
Getting out and about and meeting people in real life is even better. If you’re not sure where to start, you could try Transition Towns, local litter clean-up groups (Sea Shepherd and Responsible Runners are good places to look), Boomerang Bags groups, or a community garden.
Here’s some more ideas for how to join in, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, and no matter how much free time you have.
There are plenty of things that we can do to make a difference. Things that are good for the planet, and make us feel good too. Rather than reaching for fantastical goals like “having the best year ever”, my approach this year is to look at the small things I can do to make things slightly better.
Not the best, but better.
It’s all a journey, so let’s be kind to ourselves and have some fun along the way.
Now I’d like to hear from you! What small goals are you planning to work on in the coming months? Is there one thing you really want to work towards, or a number of things you want to tweak? Are you taking the slow approach? What was your approach last year, did it work for you, and how is that influencing your choices this year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Thanks for all your inspiration.
Thanks Katie, glad you found it useful :)
Lindsay, I love that your list is doable. Thank you
Pleasure Lexie. Doable makes the most sense! Maybe “best year ever” is more headline grabbing, but I prefer practical ;)
My student asked if we could have a Kris Kringle in English at Christmas. I said he could organise it and then suggested all gifts should be either from home or bought at a Vinnies. He agreed so these 12 year olds mostly ended up swapping toys!
That’s great Michele – I bet they all had a bunch of things they didn’t use, so what a brilliant idea :)
You share so much great advice. I particularly like this line:
“Choosing a small number of staples to buy at the bulk store, even if the rest of the groceries needs to be purchased elsewhere and in packaging due to budget or practical constraints.”
Now THAT I can do. The Zero Waste movement, as the name implies, can feel a bit all-or-nothing, as can I, and sometimes that makes people feel like giving up entirely. I have to consciously remind myself that doing something is better than doing nothing at all.
Happy New Year, Lindsay! May 2018 be more relaxed but no less rewarding for you.
Thank you Rebekah! Yes, I agree – I often meet people who feel like because they can’t do EVERYTHING (such as buying everything from the bulk store) they feel like they have failed and so do nothing. That is such a wasted opportunity! Doing something feels so much better than doing nothing, and all these micro actions add up. Imagine if every single person in the country decided to buy one thing in bulk – how amazing would that be?!
Hope you have a great 2018 too Rebekah. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments this year and I look forward to hearing your perspective next year too!
Great list, something for everyone to think about.
Thanks Liz :) Hope you had a great Christmas break.
Great post makes it seemlike I might be able to do something even if not all and going slowly towards a destination means I shan’t give up and go back to the old ways so easily. Thanks for all your inspiration.
Slowly is the best way Jane! New habits take time to form, and putting pressure on ourselves to do things quickly tends to backfire – we get stressed and overwhelmed and give up! Good luck :)
Inspirational, Lindsay! I’m with Rebekah on using the bulk store. We have a local(ish) one that I’ve been meaning to visit… but not getting around to. So I shall make the commitment now! I also plan to learn/relearn how to make pastry rather than buying the packet variety. I’ve been putting it off, but a couple of months ago I got together with a friend to make malt loaf, which neither of us had done before, (the results were excellent, by the way) so I’m thinking maybe I can get together with a pastry-making friend to show me the way…
Thanks Caro! Right, now you’ve made the commitment here it’s binding! So you’ll have to go and then report back with how you found it and what you thought :)
Shortcrust pastry is dead easy. Puff pastry is a bit of a hassle, but shortcrust is very simple. Especially if you have some kind of food processor. My mum makes rough puff, which is a bit like puff but much less effort (although still quite a bit of effort). I assume you’re starting with shortcrust?! Looking forward to hearing how it goes too!
I made my own hummus for the first time this month! OK, I did use left-over chickpeas bought in a glass jar rather than soaking and boiling raw ones myself, but …! It was so much tastier than shop bought and I was surprised by the volume made for little cost. Much cheaper than the pre-prepared plastic-tubbed stuff :-)
That’s great Stephanie! Hummus is one of those things that once you make, you can’t remember why you ever bought it! As you say, much tastier, takes about 1 minute to make and is hugely cheaper. It also freezes well. As do cooked chickpeas. I tend to cook up a big batch (I’m just soaking some now actually) and then I freeze the cooked excess in glass jars (no liquid, just chickpeas) in the freezer. Hurrah!
Great entry! It gave me hope that maybe I CAN do this! I am all for baby steps. Top of list: trying to make my own hummus. Years ago, I was fortunate to be an author in this Get Satisfied book: https://www.amazon.com/Get-Satisfied-Twenty-People-Satisfaction/dp/0974380687 My piece was called “Ignoring Walden,”–not because I don’t appreciate Thoreau or Walden, but because I was in a space where I was embracing small steps and eschewing some fanaticism that I had been witnessing (and the judgement that went with it!). I think when we achieve the smaller steps it girds us to tackle the bigger ones!
Of course you can do it Katherine! Just think about the small steps, and take them one at a time. And remember, there’s no deadline! Big steps are really a bunch of small steps stuck together ;)
And it’s all about balance too, there’s no point striving to get to fit your waste in a jam jar only to find that you’ve gone too far and given up a bunch of things you didn’t really want to and you feel miserable!
Good luck and enjoy the journey!
Thanks for such a great, achievable way to approach a simpler life. Just what I needed to read as I pondered my own “non New Years Resolution”. Loved it
As an Aussie running a Gift Shop in Northern Ireland I am starting off the New Year with a range of the kinds of products that you talk about- bees wax wraps, reuseable straws, reuseable pads and tampons. My goal is to make them more accessible to those who would use them if they knew they existed. I’ve also switched completely to bicarb and vinegar for shampoo. Starting the journey!!! Thanks mostly to you and your blog.
This is a lovely post Lindsay, and I appreciate your gentle, low-key list. It occured to me that these are great things to master before taking bigger steps. Thanks for your thoughtful suggestions. I think I’ll work on mastering the use of reusables this year.
I loved this post Lindsay! I loved your thoughts about giving positive feedback! I’m def going to start doing this!:) Thank you for all your posts! I have been so encouraged this past year bc of You!!
Hi Lindsay. I would like to thank YOU for sharing your journey and inspiring others. I have been reading your posts for a few months now which has helped me to make some changes and really think about the impact my family of 6 has had on the world and each other. I too like to reflect on things at this time of year and my goal is to focus more on the journey rather than the end result. It will be challenging.
Thanks Lindsay. I love the way you don’t judge if we aren’t changing our lives all at once. Once I got the passion for zero waste, I would of suffered from zero waste fatigue quickly if I didn’t follow you advice. I do find it more rewarding changing my choices slowly, and if I find my own way with research etc. I do find it difficult to get my husband on board though. I’ll just keep plugging away at my changes and share any articles that come up on TV about what waste is doing to our world.
Wishing you a happy and less stressful new year
Great advice & so well put as it can be very overwhelming to try & do the right thing for our planet! Sometimes it seems easier to not bother st all, but little steps are better than none at all! Thankyou
Thanks for writing this. I’ve been tackling reducing my waste production one step at a time in the past few years but sometimes I get dispirited reading blogs telling me I should be producing only a jar full of waste! It never seems I’m doing enough. I live in a small town in the Italian alps and while some choices are easier to make ( we have a really good network of G.A.S. – ethical consumer groups) , others are harder to follow through with. For example, the farmers market is only on a weekday when I’m at work, the only bulk shop that opened in town lasted 6 months before closing…
But I still feel that each small step we’re making as a family is better than none at all.
Great article. I really liked 7 & 8, about influence & joining in. I even stuck them on my door.
I really love this approach. I’m really into telling people when they do something good, rather than just griping. My son’s school sent a note home before Christmas saying for the Christmas concert to wear something red or green if the kids had something, but not to buy anything new. I was soooo pleased, I sent them a thank you email.
Great post! I like the idea of ‘micro actions’. When I think about how much my husband and I have reduced our household waste over the last year or so, it has been through many of these micro actions rather than drastic change from one day to the next. First, we were composting and using cloth handkerchiefs. Then it was the bulk shopping and bringing our own container/plate/cutlery/cup. Now I have even more changes planned for the future, and I know that if I keep adding them to our routine one by one, it will make a huge difference in the long run. Baby steps is the way to go!
Thanks Lindsay – this post has inspired me to take the next steps (I’d started with newspaper bin liners and reusable shopping bags and veggie bags but then got stuck!)
My next move is to start shopping for (at least some) items in bulk. But one practicality I’ve been thinking about is how to re-stock before my current supplies run empty…. I like the idea of having a larger container I store out of sight so I don’t have to make as many visits, but wondering what to use….
Thanks again for your positive and inspiring words!
Thanks Lindsay this is a great blog to start the year with, I was asked at work before Christmas to talk about “me” and what makes me tick etc. I spoke about my wonderful husband and how he is just the best thing, and then I spoke about my new journey to embrace Zero waste I our home. It has created a lot of interest and have had lots of questions and I have had many little coffee chats about it – telling them about your web page and some others also – thank you for continuing to inspire me
Thanks for this grounding post Lindsay. When I first started this journey last year I was under the assumption that there was a universal recipe for how to effectively take responsibility for my waste, but I’ve realized that it’s a creative project more than anything else, with no specific rules that can be applied to everyone. The secret is to try different things, learn from your mistakes and find what works best for you, within reason!
Awesome post (as always) with lots of great, effective ways to reduce waste and make the planet a better home to all living things.