The Hardest Thing about Going Zero Waste (it’s not what you think)

If you had to guess what the hardest thing about going zero waste is, what would you say? Lack of access to bulk stores? Zero waste products being more expensive than their plastic-packaged, overly wrapped counterparts? Lack of buy-in from the kids, or the spouse, or parents, or colleagues?

These things can certainly be challenging. Yes, it would definitely be easier if we all had an incredibly affordable bulk store just around the corner, right next to a veggie shop full of fresh locally grown, unpackaged produce, and our family was so enthusiastic about zero waste living that they fought over whose turn it was to do the grocery shopping.

Let’s just imagine that for a second. Ahhhhhh.

The absolute hardest thing about going zero waste, though? In my view, it is none of these things.

The hardest thing about going zero waste is stepping off the consumer treadmill. The hardest thing is not buying stuff.

Let me explain.

When I talk about “stuff”, I’m not talking about the grocery shop. I’m talking about everything except the grocery shop. Yes, the zero waste conversation often hovers around bulk store shopping and avoiding the single-use plastic packaging that so many grocery items come packaged in.

We forget that everything else we buy is also contributing to the “waste” issue.

Everything. Even the zero waste reusables that we buy. No matter how eco-friendly the product, it still uses resources and it still uses energy in its creation, and it still has an impact on our planet.

Now I’m not saying, we shouldn’t buy anything, ever. Furniture, white goods, clothing, homewares, kitchen tools – it’s all useful stuff. Those zero waste reusables are pretty useful too.

But that’s exactly the problem. There is useful stuff everywhere; we know it is useful, and we want to buy it.

Sometimes we do buy it.

The hardest thing about zero waste is about resisting the majority, if not all, of the useful stuff. The hardest thing about zero waste is not buying stuff.

Change is Hard, and Buying Stuff is Easy

Change can be hard. Starting and then ingraining new habits, consciously trying to remember new ways of doing things before it seeps into our subconscious, researching new ideas and learning new skills – it can be exhausting.

We want to make progress, and fast. We want to see the evidence of this progress.

And that is where the buying comes in.

It’s almost like a beginner zero waste right-of-passage; the buying of stuff. We’ve all done it. (Well, most of us. Including me.) We want to look like we’ve made progress, and so we buy the things to prove it.

The water bottle, the reusable coffee cup, the reusable produce bags.

It makes us feel good before the real stuff happens. The refusing of the single-use items, the remembering of said reusables, and the reshaping of habits.

That’s the real secret to being zero waste. It’s not the buying of stuff, it’s the remembering of stuff.

Of course, it’s okay to buy things. (Yes, it’s always better if we think carefully about our purchases and ensure that they are made by responsible companies and sold by responsible businesses; and they are exactly what we need and will use often. But no-one is perfect all of the time.)

We have to remember, that all of us enjoy a certain amount of comfort that we’d like to maintain. No-one reading this is living in a cave, collecting rainwater, growing all their own food and weaving their own clothes. Let’s be realistic. Maybe we like eating chocolate, or drinking coffee, or wearing ethical fashion. If takeaway coffee is our treat, then it is our treat – and a reusable coffee cup is a useful purchase.

Some things are useful, and some things are necessary. If the “thing” is standing between going zero waste and not (and will reduce waste in the long run), better to buy it.

But at some point, we have to recognize that we cannot continue to buy stuff to reduce our consumption and waste.

We have to reach our “enough”, be happy with what we have, and step off the consumer treadmill.

Stepping Off the Consumer Treadmill

The consumer treadmill refers to the constant desire or pull we feel to buy stuff and upgrade stuff. Letting go of these urges and not succumbing to temptation can be hard. It can take time. Sometimes a lot of time.

But if we are really going to embrace zero waste living, this is what we need to do.

You know how with exercise treadmills, you spend a lot of time and energy walking or running, and yet you never actually get anywhere? Well, the same applies to the consumer treadmill. Buying, storing, maintaining and ultimately disposing of stuff all takes up time and energy, for not much (any) gain.

The happiness we feel when we buy new things is fleeting, and it fades. What we’re left with is a credit card bill and more stuff to take care of – which tends to leave us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed rather than satisfied.

This is a tough lesson to learn.

Change is hard, and buying stuff is easy.

Even when we know that it is true, it can be so hard not to buy stuff. New things are so shiny, and marketers are extremely good at persuading us that we need things. That our lives will be better with them.

When I first went zero waste, the zero waste options on the market were lean. This was a good thing, as I was still in the early I-want-to-make-changes-and-want-to-see-progress stages when buying stuff is such a temptation.

Because the selection was meagre (and my budget was tiny), I didn’t buy a huge number of things, and the things I have are well used.

Then, as I went further down the zero waste path, I embraced the second-hand lifestyle, the making-do lifestyle, the borrowing-rather-than-buying lifestyle.

I learned about my “enough” and I let go of the urge to buy stuff as the solution (to whatever the problem might be).

It is more than 6 years since I first went zero waste, and now there are so many more options for zero waste items – often described as “essentials”. There are reusables for things I’d never have thought of (and would never have considered necessary until I clamped eyes on them), and there are better versions of things that I already have.

It’s easy to see things and think “ooh, I could use that” or “ooh, that is a much better version of what I already have – I should upgrade”.

The challenge is to resist this temptation. It can be a daily challenge. To understand that what is useful is not the same as what is necessary. It is easy to convince ourselves that we will use things, and therefore we need them. Instead, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t.

Things that are useful are not always necessary.

This isn’t about no stuff. We need stuff: it is useful and sometimes necessary. We can buy things because we consider them both useful and necessary, and we can recognize that everything we buy has a footprint.

The most zero waste thing to do will always be to buy nothing at all: to make do with what we have. That doesn’t mean it’s realistic, practical or achievable, but it is the truth.

If we can’t buy nothing, what can we do?

We can buy less, we can buy better, and we can make things last.

We can limit our purchases. We can choose second-hand, or we can borrow, or hire. We can share resources, we can trade, or swap. We can improvise, and make do without.

This is the closest we get to zero waste living.

We can consume resources, or we can conserve them. The planet won’t be saved by us all purchasing yet another reusable.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you find it easy or do you find it difficult to not buy stuff? How has that changed over time as you’ve begun reducing your waste? Is it something you’d like to be better at in the future? Or have you reached a happy balance of “enough”? Any other thoughts? Please tell us in the comments below!

How to Make DIY Nut Butters + Homemade Nutella (Chocolate Hazelnut Spread)

If there’s one gadget that I’d recommend for even the most minimalist zero waste kitchen, it’s a food processor/high power blender. They are just so useful for so many things. I use mine daily. I make nut milk, mix cake batter, make dips, puree veg, chop tomatoes, blend smoothies, and grind things up.

Ah, I could wax lyrical all day about how useful they are.

But today I’m just going to talk about two things I make. Two things that usually come pre-packaged, and that are so easy to make yourself that you’ll wonder why you ever purchased the bought stuff.

DIY nut butters, and chocolate hazelnut spread – which is a Nutella-like spread that you make from hazelnut butter.

How to Make DIY Nut Butter and Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Almost all the nut butters that you buy are made with roasted nuts and for good reason – they are much, much easier to blend than raw nuts, and the flavour is infinitely better.

Don’t even think about blending raw nuts (or seeds) unless you have a super-duper high powered blender, and be prepared to be disappointed with the resulting butter – it will be pallid in colour, the texture will be much more dough-y, and it will taste meh.

But hey, if that’s your thing and you do have suitable equipment, give it a go! Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…

How to Roast Nuts

You can buy roasted nuts, or you can roast your own. If you buy pre-roasted buts, try to find the ones without salt added.

I tend to roast my own as they taste much fresher, and raw nuts are usually slightly cheaper than their roasted counterparts.

To roast nuts, spread out on a large roasting tray and place in the oven on a medium heat. You want the nuts to dry out slightly, and change colour slightly. The aim is lightly coloured and golden, not dark brown or black, and they should smell and taste nutty and aromatic – not burned.

I roast my nuts at 160°C (320°F) for around 15-20 minutes, opening the oven every 5 minutes or so to give them a shake and check on their progress. If they ready sooner, remove from the oven. Softer nuts like pecans take less time and burn more easily.

Better to keep the oven temperature low and roast a little longer than scorch them.

Once they are roasted, allow to cool completely before making nut butter.

Removing the Skins (Hazelnuts Only)

Hazelnut skins are quite bitter, so they need to be removed before making hazelnut butter. (This isn’t an issue with other nuts, and I leave the skins on my almonds, pecans etc.)

Place raw hazelnuts in a roasting tin and put in the oven at 160°C (320°F) for around 20 minutes.

Take out of the oven and tip onto a clean tea towel, then fold the tea towel over so no hazelnuts can escape, and rub together. This will remove the skins.

If they don’t all come off first time, put the stubborn ones back in the oven for a few more minutes. A few skins won’t hurt so it doesn’t need to be perfect, but the more removed the better.

How to Make DIY Nut Butter

Nut butter is literally roasted nuts, blended. We tend to think of peanut butter or perhaps almond butter, but almost all nuts can be blended, as can seeds. Pistachio butter and pumpkin seed butter are both possible!

The nuts/seeds go through a few stages, from whole nuts to coarse crumbs, to finer crumbs, to a rough dough-y paste, to a glossy fully blended nut butter.

The friction from the blades warms the nuts up, helping the oils release.

Blend on the highest speed, and stop intermittently to check on progress (and to ensure your blender is not overheating).

If you’d like to make chocolate hazelnut spread, the first step is to make hazelnut butter.

High-speed blenders will work much faster than food processors. Be patient! You don’t want the nut butter to overheat, so if your food processor or blender is not the fanciest, you may find it helpful to pause part way through and allow everything to cool down.

I keep hazelnut butter and almond butter (this link has the in-progress pictures for almond butter) in the pantry and it keeps for 2-3 months, but you might prefer to keep in the fridge. When I make cashew or macadamia butter I always keep these in the fridge as the nuts are much more prone to going rancid.

How to Make DIY Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (Nutella-style)

Ingredients:

250g (2 cups) roasted hazelnuts, skins removed
3 tbsp (15g) cacao powder or 3tbsp (20g) cocoa powder
1/3 cup (100g) rice malt syrup/honey
1/3 cup cashew or other milk (I use cashew milk as that is what I have in the fridge, but other milks will work, or you could try with water)
A pinch of salt.

Method:

If you’re using raw hazelnuts, you’ll need to roast and remove the skins. If you’re using pre-roasted hazelnuts without the skins, pop into the oven for 5-10 mins on a medium heat to make more crisp.

Allow the hazelnuts to cool completely, then blend into a nut butter (instructions above).

Once you have hazelnut butter, add the rice malt syrup/honey, pinch of salt and the cacao/cocoa powder and blend again until combined and smooth.

Finally add the milk slowly until you reach the consistency that you desire. (Remember, it will thicken once refrigerated.) Add more sweetener, if necessary.

Raw cacao is lighter in colour and slightly bitter. Roasted cocoa (also called Dutched cocoa) is much darker in colour and has a richer, smooth flavour. If you use raw cacao you might find you need extra sweetener. I use the minimum sweetness I can so if you have a sweet tooth, adjust until you like the flavour.

Below: the top picture is with raw cacao (it has a lighter, slightly redder colour) and the bottom picture is with dutched cocoa (a darker colour).

Store in a glass jar in the fridge. The version I make with cashew milk lasts up to three weeks. If using dairy, use within a week.

Uses: use in baking as a filling or icing, slather on slices of apple or pear, sandwich between two rounds of banana, add to a smoothie, spread on some toast or pancakes, or just eat outta the jar.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you make nut butters or do you buy them? Have you ever tried (either tasted or made yourself) any gloriously exciting or interesting versions? What do you do with nut butter (aside from eating straight out of the jar with a spoon)? Any other thoughts? Share your ideas in the comments below!

A Zero Waste, Plastic-Free Living Guide to All Things Jars

Glass jars are almost the symbol of the zero waste movement, and for good reason. Glass jars are super useful, readily available and extremely versatile. If you’ve been slinging your empty jam jars in the recycling, think again!

There are plenty of ways that you can use glass jars, and plenty of places you can pass them on to others who will use them.

No glass jar deserves to be single-use. This is the zero waste life, after all!

Some Uses for Glass Jars

If you have access to a bulk store (where you can put food directly in your own containers to avoid packaging), glass jars are perfect. Ensure the weight of the jar is recorded (you may be able to do it yourself, or you may need to ask a staff member to do it for you) so you don’t end up paying for it!

Shopping this way makes it very easy to unpack straight into the pantry.

Jars can be used for storing food – taking lunch to work, keeping your pantry organized, holding snacks, storing leftovers in the fridge, and storing food in the freezer. Wide-neck jars are more suitable for freezing – ensure the contents are chilled before freezing, don’t overfill the jar (frozen food will expand) and loosen the lid until fully frozen, to allow for expansion.

Jars can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee. If you want to protect fingers from scalding, make a heat band using elastic bands or charity silicone wristbands, or use fabric.

Jars can be used when making jam and chutney, for preserving and canning. They can be used to make fermented foods like sauerkraut. (In time, the lids will need replacing, but most lids should last a few rounds. For canning you’ll need jars that are suitable for this purpose.)

Jars can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens, keep small recyclables like batteries or bread tags, or for freshly cut flowers/foliage.

Jars can be used for keeping cleaning products such as laundry powder and personal care products like moisturiser. Some can be purchased in bulk, or you can make your own. They can be used for candle making.

Jars can be adapted with grater insert lids, pump and dispenser arm lids and sprinkler attachment lids to make them multi-purpose and increase functionality.

Jars can be used as gift packaging (store-bought or homemade treats, soap). A bit of fabric over the jar lid and they look fantastic!

If you’re so inclined, you can even use a glass jar instead of a rubbish bin.

Glass jars replace so many things we have around the house. They are versatile, multi-functional and available everywhere.

Where to Find Glass Jars

The zero waste lifestyle is the second-hand lifestyle, so the ideal would be not to buy any brand new jars.

First, stop recycling your glass jars and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s (and family’s) recycling bin. Rescue jars from the office kitchen (the enormous coffee jars that are often found in workplaces are great for food storage). Rescue glass jars from restaurant and cafe recycling bins (you’ll probably need to ask first – this is where I sourced my 2 litre glass jars).

Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Look at online classifieds such as Gumtree or Craigslist to see if anyone is donating or selling boxes of old glass jars.

Charity shops are a great place to find vintage glass jars, and some of the more fancy/specialist jars such as those required for canning.

If you really need to buy new, consider visiting a local specialist cookware or homewares shop rather than ordering online. Glass is breakable and needs to be heavily packaged to protect it – this will probably mean using plastic.  Then there’s the carbon footprint associated with shipping (glass is heavy).

It is lower waste to buy the jars that have already been shipped to within a few kilometres/miles from your home.

If you can’t bear the thought of second-hand mismatched jars and really need a set that is more pleasing on the eye, plus don’t have time to trawl through online classifieds slowly slowly building up a matching collection, no judgement. Everyone has a mess threshold and if this is what tips you over the edge, do what you need to do. You’ll be using whichever jars you end up with forever – that’s how zero waste works, right?!

Different Types of Jar Lids

The most common jar lids are those from repurposed jars: made of steel with a plastic lining inside to slow down the metal rusting/corroding.  The threads wear over time, so older lids will not give airtight storage. Whilst not plastic-free, the plastic typically isn’t touching the food, and I’m happy to use these as they are readily available at fit the jars I have.

Occasionally you might see aluminium lids, and these have a plastic wax disc inserted to separate metal and contents. The wax disc can be easily removed to create a plastic-free jar and lid.

Some jars have plastic lids. If the jar is a shape I know I’ll use, I’ll keep it, otherwise I’ll pass it on (more details on where at the end of the post).

If you really want to avoid plastic, its possible to find jars with glass lids, that seal with a silicone band. The lid stays attached to the jar with a metal hinge system or with metal clips. These jars are also suitable for canning as the silicone band creates an airtight seal.

Le Parfait is the classic French brand for the hinge lid jars, although many similar versions exist without the visible branding. Weck jars are German, and use the clip system. It is possible to buy wooden lids for Weck jars which seal without the clips – not suitable for canning but more suitable for pantry storage.

Metal jar lids can be recycled via a metal recycler at the end of their life, and new lids can be purchased from specialist kitchenware shops or online without needing to buy a whole new glass jar to go with it. Alternatively, you can find second-hand jar lids.

How to Remove Labels from Glass Jars

If you’re lucky, the label on the jar will peel straight off. If not, try soaking in water for a few minutes. For some labels this loosens the glue and then label comes straight off.

If you attempt to pull off the label and it comes off, leaving a sticky, gloopy mess on the glass in its wake, my tip is to use eucalyptus essential oil. (I’ve been told lemon essential oil also works well.) Dab some onto a rag, and wipe – the glue comes off instantly.

If that’s not an option because even after soaking all you’ve managed to do is fray the outer edges of the label, coconut oil will get that label off. Smother the label in coconut oil, and wait. I usually do this overnight – but this time I have label rage and need a break before resuming the activity! After a few hours, the label will just slide off. Magical!

Of course, you don’t have to remove the labels. But it is a lot easier to see what is in the jars, looks neater, and saves the confusion of eating “mustard” only to find out it is jam, or constantly moving the dried oats to the fridge because the label says “keep refrigerated”.

Finally, on the topic of labels: if your lids are slathered with brand logos or are a rather unappealing shade of green or lurid yellow, you can paint them with blackboard or other paint. You could by replacement lids. Alternatively, you can put up with the marketing in your cupboard.

Labelling your Glass Jars

Now you’ve got the old labels off, time to label with what’s actually in the jar. The contents of the jars I keep in my pantry swap and change all the time so I don’t want permanent lettering and labels. If you do, you could use a label maker, if you have one (it is plastic).

Alternatively you could paint blackboard paint rectangles on the jars, and write on what’s inside as it changes.

If you have sharpies and marker pens at home (I don’t) you can use these.

I use a china pencil – a wax pencil wrapped in paper. I have a black one and a white one. Art supply stores will sell these. I label my jars infrequently – only when I know I can’t tell what it is without the label! I wouldn’t label pasta, for example – but bicarb? That’s a yes.

Alternatively an option is to label on scrap paper or card, and tie the label to the jar with elastic bands or string.

What to Do with Glass Jars When Your Jar Habit Gets Out of Hand

Eventually – dare I say it – we can end up with too many jars. When the pantry is full of glass jars, the bathroom cupboard is also full of glass jars, the cupboard under the sink is overflowing with glass jars, and there are two surplus boxes of glass jars in the garage/shed, it is probably time to let some glass jars go.

There’s really no need to hoard jars. If you suddenly realise that you need more glass jars in the future, you’ll be able to find some, for free, in a matter of hours. Probably less.

Rather than let your excess gather dust, pass them on to someone who can use them straightaway.

Glass jars can be gifted (and even sold) via social neighbourhood network sites, Buy Nothing groups, zero waste or sustainable living Facebook groups and online classifieds – the same places I suggested for looking for jars at the start.

Some bulk stores will accept old glass jars for reuse. They pass onto customers who forget their own containers when they come to shop at the store. Charity shops might accept glass jars, but they will only want the good ones (branded is better), not the ones you fished out of recycling.

Glass jars are like the currency of zero waste. Use them where we can, pass them on when we cannot. Do not throw them away! They are a great reusable vessel, and single-use jars are surely a crime. Why would we go to the trouble of putting a glass jar in the recycling bin, only for it to be transported, ground down, melted and remolded right back into… a glass jar?

The zero waste lifestyle is the second-hand lifestyle, after all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you use glass jars for? What’s the most unusual use of a glass jar you’ve come across? Any tips for finding quality glass jars, or any tips for where to pass unneeded jars onto? Are you a fan of second-hand, or do you buy new? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

5 Things You Need (No Purchase Required) To Go Zero Waste

I believe that less waste is firmly linked to less stuff. Yes, I do have a bunch of reusables, and yes I use them and find them useful. But the focus of the zero waste conversation doesn’t need to be around “stuff”.

Rather than talk about the things we can buy to reduce our waste, I wanted to talk about the things we can do, and the ways that we can change our thinking.

Because we can have all the zero waste reusables in the world, but without the right attitude and mindset we’re going to end up frustrated, defeated…  and those reusables will end up languishing on a shelf.

Instead of creating another one of those “5 Things You Can Buy” posts, I thought I’d create a “5 Things You Can Be” post for going plastic-free or zero waste.

A little encouragement, with no purchase required.

1. A Can-Do Attitude

If we want to achieve something, we have to believe it is possible. That doesn’t mean we have to think in absolutes. Let’s be realistic about what is possible, for us, and build on that.

Too many people trip up thinking oh, I could never be 100% zero waste, or I could never do all my shopping at the bulk store, it is too expensive. But there’s no rule that says you have to do that. Not being able to do everything is no reason not to do what we can.

If 100% zero waste or plastic-free isn’t for you (and let’s be honest, in today’s economy, with today’s systems, it is impossible to achieve 100%), decide what is for you.

Choose a different percentage, or even better, choose how much you want to improve by compared to where you are now. Maybe you’d like to reduce your bin by half, or maybe you’d like to make one swap every month until Christmas.

If the bulk store is too expensive, commit to doing 10% of your shopping there, or just buying your herbs and spices there.

Too often people assume it has to be all-or-nothing, and if they can’t do it all it doesn’t count and they shouldn’t bother. Wrong. It all counts. Every single action counts.

What you need is a goal that is achievable and realistic for you, one you can feel good about and know is within your grasp. Ideally one that involves no comparison with what anyone else is doing. That will keep you upbeat as you work on making change.

Let’s not forget that there will be slip-ups, mistakes and moments where it all gets a bit too hard. See them for what they are, part of the learning process, and know that despite any backwards steps, you can do this.

2. A Focus on Solutions

There are a lot of things about the world that could be a whole lot better. It can be a little overwhelming to think about it all. So don’t.

We can recognise that there are a huge amount of things that we care about and want to see changed – climate change, peak oil, farming practices, the food system, plastic pollution, over-use of plastic in manufacturing, animal welfare, deforestation – whatever the things that are closest to to your heart.

This is our sphere of concern: the stuff we care about.

From there, we can think about what we are in control of, or can influence. We might not be able to influence the political decisions made by leaders in foreign countries, but we still have influence on others and the world around us.

We can write letters, or join campaigns. We can support local events, or create our own.  We can pick up litter, or choose to boycott unethical companies. We can refuse single-use plastic, and we can buy second-hand.

This is our sphere of influence: the things that we can do.

Try to spend less time worrying about the things that you cannot change, and more time doing the things you can to make the world better.

For specific problems, tackle them one at a time, and find a solution. Ask the internet. Talk to friends or colleagues. Try different things. Someone, somewhere, will probably have a solution to the problem staring you in the face.

And if you really can’t find a solution, put it aside, for now. It is in the sphere of concern, but not our sphere of influence (yet). Move onto the next concern, and look for a solution for that.

3. Some Creativity

If you don’t think you’re creative, don’t panic. You don’t need to be – you just need to find others who are. People are always coming up with great solutions and hacks for different problems, and the internet means they are freely shared.

Saying that, creative doesn’t necessarily mean artistic. I consider myself to be creative in the kitchen – but you won’t find me making cute cupcakes or icing cakes worthy of best-in-show rosettes. No, my creativity is based around my ability to make a meal out of almost anything. I am a dab hand at using up fridge dregs! Not Pinterest-worthy, but tackling food waste gets my creative juices flowing.

Maybe you know how to sew. Maybe your mending skills are extraordinary. Maybe you know how to fix stuff. Maybe you know how to make stuff. Maybe you can find a use for anything. Maybe you’re full of upcycling ideas.

Whatever your creative outlet is, use it in your journey to zero waste. Share it, if you can. And use the creative outlets of others to help you with the things you’re less good at.

4. Healthy Scepticism

I believe it’s useful to question things, particularly claims about eco-friendly credentials that a business or product might have, or those headline-grabbing claims that companies often spout. Read the fine print. Ask questions. Become your own investigator.

There is a lot of greenwashing and misleading information out there. I was someone who used to take these claims at face value. If it said “eco-friendly” on the packaging, that was good enough for me! But of course, claims like this aren’t regulated. We need to do our homework.

Any business can decide its product is eco-friendly and stamp it on the front of the box. Any business can make a media statement promising to ban plastic/single-use items/non-recyclable packaging by several years into the future. But claims and headlines like this are meaningless without explaining how, or offering an an actionable plan to back it up.

When you see a headline or product that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Probe. Look deeper. Ask questions. Most companies with genuine ethical credentials will be able to answer your questions and address your concerns, or will tell you they don’t know and offer to find out. Anyone who ignores your request or is elusive or cagey: remain sceptical.

5. Community Spirit

We’re in this together! We really are. The reason that zero waste and plastic-free living is referred to as a movement is because there are lots of people joining in, all working together towards a common goal. We’re sharing resources and sharing ideas, and learning from one another.

Particularly if you don’t have much support from friends, family and colleagues, finding like-minded people elsewhere is crucial.

Be part of the community. This can be online, via social media (Facebook groups are good resource for creating online community spirit) and blogs. Share your thoughts and insights, and ask questions. Post ideas and success stories. Support those who are struggling, and celebrate those who are doing good things.

Help make our community positive, welcoming and supportive for others.

This can be offline, too. Join a local group or attend a community event (from beach clean-ups to movie screenings to DIY beeswax wrap making, I guarantee there will be something out there). If you’re feeling brave, offer to run an event at your local library – it will be a good way to meet like-minded people.

At the very least, join a Buy Nothing group or local neighbourhood network. Whilst the platforms are online, the members are the people who live where you live. It’s a great way to start to get to know your neighbours better and share stuff.

If you think zero waste is too hard, it will be too hard. But if you think that reducing your trash or limiting your plastic use is within your grasp, you’re already on your way.

Look at the areas in your life where you can make tiny changes and improvements, and find ways that work for you. Whenever you’re stuck, reach out – it’s likely someone will have a creative solution for your problem. And if you come up with an amazing solution yourself – tell everyone who will listen!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a lifestyle and a journey. There’s not some end point that you get to and you’re done. It’s ongoing, and every day brings new challenges. So forget about absolutes or perfection. Just do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with this list? Any other attributes you think are helpful when trying to go zero waste and plastic-free? Anything you struggle with? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

8+ Ways to Go Zero Waste Without Spending Any Money

There are so many posts out there dedicated to all the things we can buy to be zero waste. This is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the things that we buy are helpful in reducing our waste now and in the future – such as reusable produce bags or a compost bin. Buying things can be necessary. Consumables (things like dishcloths, scrubbing brushes, handwash) run out, and need to be replaced.

But zero waste is not all about buying stuff. The zero waste lifestyle is not a consumer lifestyle. As George Monbiot said, we can consume more, or we can conserve more… but we can’t do both.

If we continue to talk about zero waste living in terms of the things we can buy, and encourage more shopping and the accumulation of stuff, we’re staying on the consumer treadmill and still using resources at an alarming rate.

Not to mention, as soon as we talk about buying stuff, zero waste appears to be only for those people not trying to stick to a budget.

 

The good news is, plenty of things that lead to living zero waste can be done for free! No spend required.

Here’s how you can embrace zero waste living without buying anything.

1. Glass Jars

Glass jars are your zero waste friend! And even better, they are free!

Stop recycling your glass jars, and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s recycling bin. Rescue glass jars from cafe and restaurant recycling bins (this is where I scored all of my big 2 litre glass jars). Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Put an ad on Gumtree or Craigslist asking for free jars.

Once you have your glass jar collection, use them for everything! They can be taken to the bulk store to buy ingredients without packaging, if this is an option for you. They can be used for food storage – taking lunch to work, keeping cookies on the counter, organising your pantry, storing leftovers in the fridge, and even in the freezer. (Yes, you can store glass jars in the freezer. More info here.)

They can be used for preserving jams and chutneys. (Eventually the lids may need replacing, but most lids will last a few rounds. Use lids with the air lock pressy button thing to ensure they are sealed.)

They can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee.

They can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens.

They can be used as packaging for gifts (store-bought or homemade treats, soap).

They can be used as water glasses (I have a lovely set of Bonne Maman jars, with the wide mouths, for this purpose).

Glass jars replace so many other storage containers, and there is no need to buy a single one. If a jar breaks, there is a plentiful supply of more free glass jars almost everywhere we go.

2. Line Your Bin without Buying Bin Liners

There is absolutely no need to buy bin liners. Depending on the size of your bin, what you put in it and how often you fill it, there are plenty of zero waste solutions that don’t cost a cent/penny.

When I first went plastic-free, I used old newspaper to line my bin. I received a free community newspaper, and there was a cafe down the road that offered the daily newspaper for free to its customers to read, so of course the paper got covered in coffee. (More info on lining a bin with newspaper here.)

My bin was wastepaper-sized. It is much trickier to line big bins with newspaper, and some recycling collections require the waste to be bagged (mine gets tipped into a big co-mingled recycling bin, so this isn’t an issue).

It also depends on how much wet and stinky stuff goes in your bin. If you compost your food scraps and only dry stuff is going in the bin, you could use an old jute coffee sack, old pillow case, repurposed plastic food bucket, a cardboard box or do away with any kind of liner altogether.

If you need a waterproof/plastic liner, consider what other packaging you buy that you could repurpose. Some ideas are plastic bread bags, empty potato chip packets, or pet food/litter bags. If you don’t have enough, ask your friends, family and work colleagues… or put a request on the groups mentioned above.

(If you create a lot of waste, consider separating into “wet” and “dry” – that way you can use one of the ideas above for the dry stuff, and keep the plastic liners for the wet only, to make them go further.)

Better to reuse something already in existence than create something new.

3. Eat Your Food Scraps

So much food that we throw away, we can eat. I don’t mean stuff that was edible but is now past its use-by date, I mean food that IS still perfectly edible… we just don’t know how to use it.

Using scraps that we would usually throw in the bin makes the household budget go much further.

Wash potato peelings, toss in a little oil and then bake in the oven for 10 mins or so each side until crispy. Free potato chips!

Rather than chucking the broccoli stalk, cut the outer edges off, and dice or slice the soft green core. Add to pasta, stir-fries and curries just as you could the florets.

Outer cauliflower leaves can be roasted – drizzle with olive oil, add plenty of garlic and roast until the green outers are crispy and the stems are soft. Alternatively, chop and add to curries.

Save onion skins, the top green parts of leeks, carrot shavings, zucchini tips and other veggies scraps for making stock. Pop into a glass jar, freeze, and when the jar is full boil it up to make a veggie broth. (The same can be done with animal bones to make meat/fish stock).

Keep your apple cores and peels and make into your own apple cider vinegar – the only other thing you need is a tablespoon or so of sugar. Can be used in cooking, as a digestive tonic, for hair washing (yep, that’s a thing – and will save you buying conditioner) and even cleaning.

4. Compost your food waste (for free)

Setting up a compost bin, worm farm or bokashi system can cost money, but it doesn’t have to. The bins and buckets required for these things are often given away for free, second-hand. Keep you eye out on Gumtree or Craigslist, and especially if you have verge collections locally.

Failing that, it is possible to make these things with repurposed materials and minimal effort. Worm farms can be made from repurposed polystyrene boxes (ask your local supermarket for theirs) – here’s a step-by-step guide on making a polystyrene box worm farm.

Most community gardens or people with worm farms will give you a handful of composting worms for free to get you going.

A bokashi system can be made using two repurposed white builder/food buckets placed one inside the other, with holes cut into the inner one to create drainage.

If doing it yourself is just a step too far, find somewhere local that will take your food scraps for you. Community compost hubs and community gardens are everywhere, and so are willing backyard composters. The best place to find somewhere local to you is sharewaste.com.

5. Cleaning Cloths / Wipes

There’s no need to buy cleaning cloths, wipes, rags, paper towel or tissues. We can simply repurpose old fabric that we would previously have recycled as rags. Old towels, bedding, T-shirts, work shirts… even underpants, if you’re not faint-hearted.

Typically natural fibres work better over completely plastic polyester fabric.

Chop old clothing into squares to use as cleaning cloths, handkerchiefs (you can store them in a glass jar on the coffee table!) and reusable “unpaper” towel. Cut into strips to make rags.

Using sharp scissors will help prevent the fabric fraying, crimping shears will help even more and if you can sew the edges up, that’s the best solution to make them last.

Obviously, the better we are at sewing the better these things will look. Aesthetics matter to some. And whilst a few of of us might revel in the rebellious act of using old underpants to do the dishes, it might be a step too far for others.

Look at where you use disposable paper products, look at the fabric you have on hand, and do what works best for you.

6. Borrow before Buying

We often don’t need the thing that we buy, we need to result that it offers. We don’t need a drill, we need a hole in the wall. We don’t need a blender, we need to puree vegetables for a one-off recipe.

Informally, you can ask friends, family, colleagues or neighbours if they can lend you the thing that you need.

More formally, you may have access to libraries. Books, toys, music, movies, games and tools can all be borrowed this way.

I’ve just set up a local Community Dishes library for people to borrow crockery and cutlery, to save them buying new stuff at the blue-and-yellow furniture store or using disposables. There may be something similar in your area. Libraries of Things are popping up in more places, too.

7. Find for Free

If we need the thing, we still don’t have to buy it new, or even second-hand. We can find it for free. We can ask friends, family, neighbours or colleagues, we can look for ads on online classifieds, we can put requests in Buy Nothing groups, and we can trawl verge pickups looking for the item.

Second-hand means no packaging, it also means keeping existing items in circulation and reduces demand for new products, saving resources. Second-hand doesn’t always mean cheap. Second-hand and free – well, that’s within everyone’s budget.

People often have things languishing in the back of the cupboard, and are keen for someone to take it off their hands. I’ve scored a clothes drying rack, an electric fry pan, heaps of lemons, a computer monitor and an almost new pair of trainers from my local Buy Nothing group, all for free.

8. Reusables for On the Go

Rather than buying a water bottle, upcycle an old glass passata bottle, or a VOSS glass water bottle.

Rather than buying a reusable coffee cup, use a glass jar. Make a heat band using elastic bands, or those silicone charity fundraising bracelets. Or, if you’re crafty, sew or knit a band.

Rather than buying a reusable lunchbox, use a glass jar or tea towel to wrap food, or make a sandwich wrap from fabric if you can sew.

Rather than buying a set of to-go cutlery, take your kitchen cutlery out with you. You can make a wrap to keep it neat, or wrap it in some cloth.

There you have it – a few ideas to get you started living zero waste, no spend required. Don’t buy in to the idea (see what I did there?!) that zero waste means spending money. Sure, there are nice things to buy, and many of them are useful. But zero waste living can still be pursued whilst spending nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you do any of these things? All of these things? Are you new to zero waste/plastic-free and overwhelmed at all the stuff you think you need to buy? Are you a pro at using second-hand and free solutions? What no-spend zero waste tips would you add? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!