10 Easy Zero Waste Hacks from Instagram

There are plenty of zero waste solutions and plastic-free living hacks, and many are so small and simple (when you know what they are, of course!) that they never make it to a blog post. They’re the kinds of snippets that I share on Instagram – but that’s not very fair for those of you who don’t use the platform! Even if you do, it isn’t always very easy to find them again.

So I thought I’d put together some of my most popular tips over the year for you. None are big enough to be a blog post in themselves, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out!

1. Don’t let fresh water run down the drain – collect it to use.

Most of us are comfortable with the idea of turning off the tap whilst we brush our teeth, but when we’re waiting for the cold water to run hot, it’s easy to let it go straight down the drain.

Instead, use a bottle or container, collect the water and use it later.

I used to use old wine bottles to do this, but because my hot water tank is on the roof three stories up, it takes forever to run hot – it can be 7 litres of cold water first. And that is a lot of wine bottles. Now I have two big Klean Kanteen growlers, and I use my other water bottles for the extra.

I’ll use the water for cooking, and also in the garden. My hot water tank isn’t old, so I’m not too worried about using the water to boil pasta. However some people have old water tanks and don’t trust their pipes, and if that’s you, use the water for cleaning, to water house plants and on the garden.

2. Use your cooking water on the compost.

Sticking on the subject of water, collect the water from cooking rice, pasta and veggies, and pour it on the compost (or on the garden). There’s nutrients in that water, and they are going down the drain if you don’t save them!

If it’s water from cooking veggies you can probably use it to water plants, but pasta water will be too starchy.

I tend to use a saucepan to collect the water – ideally a dirty one so the hot water dislodges some of the food – and tip that outside.

3. Label your bulk jars using a grease pencil.

I rarely label my pantry jars, I mostly know what things are without the labels. Pasta – yep I can tell that by looking at it, no label required. The one thing I’ve found hard to identify is white powders. There’s a big difference between laundry powder and bicarb soda and rice flour, so it’s quite an important one.

I use a grease pencil. It’s a wax pencil, it comes off fairly easily so I’m not committing a jar to one type of ingredients forever, and the lead is wrapped in paper.

 Wax pencils (they are sometimes called chinagraphs) can be found in art supply stores, usually without packaging. I have a black one and a white one, although the white one is rarely used.

4. Reusables do not need to be single purpose.

I’m a fan of anything with multiple purposes – it means less stuff, and more use for the things I own. My KeepCup has been used far more often as a water glass, for buying things at the bulk store and taking home leftovers than it has been for buying takeaway coffee – which is something I rarely purchase.

Glass jars can be used for takeaway smoothies and lunch on-the-go, produce bags can be used for straining nut milk. The best one I heard recently was somebody using their hat to buy loose mushrooms from a grocery store!

5. Remove the labels from your glass jars without getting jar rage.

Glass jars are so useful in so many ways, and upcycling old glass jars is the most zero waste solution. But first, you need to get that old sticky label off. And sometimes, that can be a battle and a half.

Soak the jar in water, and hopefully the label will come loose. Try to scrape it off. If that doesn’t happen, wipe coconut oil on the label and wait a few hours, and then the label will come off.

You’ll probably be left with a sticky, gluey smear on the glass jars. For this, eucalyptus oil (and I’m told lemon oil works but I have never tried this myself) will get it off. Dab a small amount on an old rag, and wipe.

The result: gleaming glass jars that don’t have Dolmio labels with an expiry date of 1994 or “keep refrigerated” sitting in the pantry.

6. Save your onion peels (and other veggie scraps) to make stock.

Whenever I peel an onion, I save the tops and tails and outer skins and pop into a jar in the freezer. (Yes, glass jars can be frozen.) I collect until I have a good amount, and then I make stock.

To make stock you boil the skins with water. You can add other veggie scraps (or bits of veg) – zucchini, carrot, potato, garlic, herbs. I’ve found too many brassicas (broccoli, kale stems, cabbage etc) doesn’t make for good-tasting stock, so I leave these out.

I don’t tend to peel carrots or potatoes so I rarely have these scraps, and I often make stock just with onion. I then use the stock to make risotto. It can be cooled and frozen too.

7. Make DIY vanilla essence.

Anything in little bottles tends to be more packaging than product. To avoid the tiny little bottles, I’ve been making vanilla essence for years – using brandy. (I purchased a bottle to make a Christmas cake years ago, used a teaspoon – as you do – and then discovered I could make vanilla essence with the rest.)

Use 1-2 vanilla pods, slit down the middle with a knife, pop into a glass jar, cover in brandy and leave. The flavour infuses over time. I probably wait a month until I first use it.

Once it’s run out, I top up again with brandy. I do this a few times until I notice the vanilla flavour has diminished. Then I dry out the pods, grind to a powder and use in baking.

8. Cook more than you need, and freeze for later.

I rarely cook a meal for one. I’m a huge fan of cooking extra, eating leftovers few a few days, and freezing meals for later. Pasta sauce, lentil stews and dahl all freeze extremely well. I make quadruple batches of falafel and freeze half. Roasted veggies, extra lentils or beans – yep, I freeze it.

Crumble topping – make one, freeze one for later.

It doesn’t take much extra time to make more, and it makes exactly the same amount of mess in the kitchen, so for me it’s win-win. It means that when I don’t have much spare time to cook, I can fossick through the freezer and find something healthy, homemade and delicious without having to do too much.

9. Hack your recycling.

If the two choices are landfill or recycling, I want to opt for recycling. Because of the way our recycling is sorted in WA, size matters. Anything too small (smaller than the palm of your hand) will be missed, and probably jam up the machines.

There are a few hacks to get around the size issue.

With bottle caps, which are steel, pop into a steel can, and once it is half full, squeeze shut. The caps can’t fall out and will be picked up by the magnet when the metal are sorted.

With aluminium foil, save it up until it is a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and pop that in the recycling. When it’s this size the eddy current will be able to sort it. Wine bottle caps that are made of aluminium can be added to the ball, as can aluminium blister packs (if there’s no plastic).

10. Make tea from fresh herbs.

This is one of the easiest, cheapest and tastiest hacks ever. Rather than buy dried herbal tea, find the fresh stuff and make your own. Mint grows almost everywhere, it is hard to kill and people who grow herbs often are willing to share, so you don’t even need to grow it yourself.

I tend to drink mint tea, or lemongrass and ginger tea (I grow lemongrass, and can buy Australian ginger). My neighbours drink sage tea and lemon verbena. There are plenty of options.

Zero waste and plastic-free living is about thinking creatively and finding solutions. These solutions don’t need to be complicated or expensive. Often it is the simplest ideas that work best!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have yo any great tips to share – either that you learned from someone else or made up yourself? Are there any hacks above you’d never thought of before? Anything you’re going to embrace? I’d love to know what simple hacks, tips and tricks you’ve learned so please share in the comments below!

10 Easy Zero Waste Hacks from Instagram
36 replies
  1. Julie E Hale
    Julie E Hale says:

    I make a pot of tea – with tea leaves, pour 2 strong cups for my husband and I and then over the next few days reuse the leaves in the teapot several times for weak tea for myself by boiling the kettle and pouring thru the leaves in the pot again. –
    Taking reuse to new heights. I was doing the same with tea bags – but decided to dispense with them as another step to waste free.
    Thanks for your tips and hints!!!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I do this exact same thing Julie! Particularly with lemongrass and ginger, and with green tea – I like it weak so I don’t brew for long the first time. When it gets to the point that there’s a change in colour but it tastes like water, then I add to the compost!

  2. Bonnie St Julien
    Bonnie St Julien says:

    Excellent tips! Thank you for sharing. The grease pencil is a great idea. I have a bit of a “mystery cupboard” going on since I have started zero-waste shopping. Sorting through unlabelled jars is easier for me but it tends to make my husband crazy

  3. sandyfaithking
    sandyfaithking says:

    I have so far to go on this journey… but as Laozi said, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” I’m signed up to do veganuary so that’s a start – and have begun making bread from scratch. Enjoying this blog :)

  4. Margit
    Margit says:

    Hi Lindsay, fyi any type of plant oil should work to remove the sticky from jar labels. I’ve used successfully tea tree, orange, lavender and even thyme oils.
    Also a quick question re the steel bottle tops. I have heard your tip before but have ever since been wondering about the plastic lining of the steel (and aluminium ) bottle tops. Does it contaminate the steel recycling process? Thx

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Margit – ah, good to know. Thanks! Re the metal caps, the metal can be separated from the plastic so no danger of contamination, but what happens to the plastic I’m unsure. My guess is worst case burned, best case landfilled. But better to recycle the metal than landfill the lot, I think.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    I love the tip about the steel and aluminium bottle tops, thank you! I never really know what to do with the small things like this, so have been (unhappily) binning them. I’ll save them up from now on! Presumably you could also put safety razor blades in with them, too?

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      That’s true, you could, Karen – although you’d have to ensure they weren’t going to escape as they are sharp. You can also collect metal and take it to a scrap metal place (Sim’s Metals, here in Perth takes them). So old keys, bottle tops, screws or nails, other random bits of metal – save it up until you have a box full and take it there.

  6. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Lemon balm makes great tea, and it is as easy to grow as mint – it is drought hardy. Best in a pot though, as it self seeds everywhere if you let it!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Natasha, lots of bulk stores have them. I got my last ones from the Source Bulk Foods, and Angry Almond also have them and I suspect many others. I’ve also seen them packaged in glass tubes in the UK, so that might be a plastic-free option? I’m sure I saw them in Waitrose but gourmet food shops would no doubt have them…

  7. Maureen Meikle
    Maureen Meikle says:

    Love your blogs and your Instagram posts are great too. I’ve been popping my wine lids in with the steel ones. Do they HAVE to be separated??

  8. N
    N says:

    Like Margit said, pretty much any oil should work. Try whatever you have available. I personally use rapeseed oil because that’s the cheapest oil I have (I’m not wasting expensive oils on removing sticky stuff!). When I have a bit left in a pan after cooking, I use that. I wash the jars afterwards anyway so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bit smelly or has bits of food in it.

    It’s also possible to use a permanent marker to label glass. It doesn’t rub off easily if you rub your finger over it, but (despite the name) will come off if you use something rougher like a pan scrubber. That could be a good option for anyone who already has some markers lying around.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I like the idea of using old cooking oil, that’s a great suggestion! Thank you. Next time I have some I will try it. I don’t have permanent markers or anything like that, but of course it’s always best to use what we have rather than buy new so if you have them, use them, yes!

  9. johanna @ green gourmet giraffe
    johanna @ green gourmet giraffe says:

    That’s great to see the tip about onions – I have a worm farm (not enough yard for a compost) so I can’t put onions in there – I used to put more food scraps in the freezer but now they go to the worms but I have wondered about the onions. And re the reusables – yesterday I took a tub of crackers to the city and was a bit annoyed at having to then carry it around until I realised it was a great way to take my rubbish with me when there wasn’t a bin anywhere!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      If you mean wine bottles then the lids are aluminium. If you mean beer bottle caps, they are steel. So you need to keep the metals with the same type. As for the inners, yes they are plastic, and the metal recyclers will separate from the plastic. My guess is by burning, the plastic won’t be recycled, but part recycling is better than wholly landfilling in my view. Or you can separate them with a knife, and landfill the plastic part.

  10. Melanie Hawkes
    Melanie Hawkes says:

    How do you get rid of the smell from a jar of minced garlic? I know I should buy fresh but I use it so infrequently that fresh would probably go bad before using it. I want to re-use the glass jar and lid but not if it smells like garlic!

    And I make art from used bottle tops. They come in all sizes, colours and patterns. It’s amazing what you can make with them. I have done a butterfly, a dog, an owl, flowers etc.

    • cripplewing
      cripplewing says:

      I have had success with removing odors from jar lids , that might work. I just put them outside on the railing of my deck for a few day. The sun and fresh air seems to remove the odors from the seal. Not sure if it would work but maybe worth a try.

  11. Chris
    Chris says:

    Herein the UK crown toppers (beer bottle caps) can not be recycled. This is because the plastic can not be removed. Might be alright in Australia though.

  12. James Hyslop
    James Hyslop says:

    Great article. I especially liked your point about reusing reusables. We have multiple KeepCups at home and have never though to be actively using them when they are not filled with coffee. So thanks for the hack! Another helpful one as we are coffee lovers is instead of throwing your coffee grinds into the bin you can actually use them as fertilizer and compost

  13. Lija W
    Lija W says:

    I am so happy to find your site! It is gratifying to see that I’m already doing so many of the hacks that you offer. And the more I look over your site, the more I learn. It’s so nice to find someone who thinks the same way I do. Thank you for the blog!

  14. René
    René says:

    Newly budded Spruce tree tips, picked when still vibrant green, have a lemony flavor and are excellent added to hot or cold water alone or with a few blueberries for tea or spa water. Chopped and added to a salad is delicious. I’ve even added them to shortbread cookies with dried blueberries.


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