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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!

Zero Waste Living: 15 Things I Reuse (And One I Don’t)

It’s Zero Waste Week on 7th – 13th September this year, and once again I’ve signed up to be an ambassador of this awesome initiative. Of course I’ll still be talking about waste on the other 51 weeks of the year (you know me!), but I do love it when a community really gets together to draw attention to the subject, the issues and the solutions, and it’s such a great opportunity to spread the zero waste message just that little bit further ; )

This year the topic is “Reuse”. As someone who strives to be zero waste, I love to reuse things! It eliminates a lot of waste, but also a lot of spending on unnecessary things, and a fair amount of clutter too. Who wouldn’t want to get the most use out of the things they own?!

15 things that I swear by to live my Zero Waste lifestyle…

1. A reusable coffee cup.

Even if you don’t drink takeaway coffee, I think owning one of these is invaluable. I carry mine with me always. It’s useful for getting water from public water fountains or if you go into a cafe and find they only serve takeaway cups. If you fly, it’s great for drinking any kind of drink in a plane. I’ve also used mine at parties where wine was served in disposable wine glasses. If I’m buying ice cream I’ll use the cup rather than one of their disposable ones. Plus, because it was a lid, it’s great as an impromptu container.

Reusable Coffee Cups aren't just for coffee!

Reusable coffee cups aren’t just for coffee! They make great reusable containers for all kinds of treats!

2. Reusable bags.

I was on the “bring my own bag to the supermarket” train back in the early 2000s, and would pack all my plastic-packaged goods into my own reusable tote – “oh no, I don’t need a bag!” Little did it occur to me that I could use reusable cloth / mesh bags for the produce I was putting inside the tote! Even if bulk stores aren’t local to you, reusable bags are great for buying loose fresh produce.

Reusable bags aren’t just for food shopping either! You can use that same reusable tote for other shops too. These days I always take my own bag to clothes shops, hardware shops, kitchenware shops…anywhere where I need to pick something up.

Reusable Bags for Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable bags come in all shapes and sizes…there’s no need to limit yourself to one big tote!

3. A water bottle.

This is a total no-brainer for me. Aside from the fact that bottled water is predominantly unregulated and plastic leaches chemicals into the water (not to mention the ethics of bottling water in drought-stricken regions like California or countries where most of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water like Fiji), sucking water out of the ground trucking water across states and even across countries is a huge and unnecessary waste of resources. Most of us have access to municipal water at a fraction of the cost (as much as 300x cheaper). If you really don’t like chlorine or fluoride, it’s possible to get a water filter fitted.

If you’re in any doubt about bottled water, watch the documentary Tapped.

4. Reusable Cutlery.

I have a nifty little bamboo set that was a gift, but you can also find metal camping sets, and charity shops always have plenty of cutlery too if you want to avoid buying new. Alternatively, use what you already have in the kitchen! My set contains a knife, a fork, a spoon and a set of chopsticks. Plastic cutlery often isn’t fit for the purpose – have you ever tried to cut anything with a disposable plastic knife?! I’ve successfully peeled and de-stoned a mango with my wooden knife!

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery (it would be just as easy to make a set with op-shop finds) and I’ve added a stainless steel straw to complete the set!

5. A Reusable Straw.

Whilst I don’t use straws often, I think that single use straws are up there as the most wasteful plastic items out there. They are also one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups. I have a stainless steel one which I keep in my cutlery pouch, and a glass one which I prefer, and came with its own cleaning brush.  Carrying a straw means I’m never caught out, but also it’s handy to lend to friends! I know from experience that there are a few drinks that need straws – icy drinks like dacquiris and fresh coconuts, for example.

6. Reusable Containers.

Just as it never occurred to me for years to bring my own reusable produce bags to the shops, it never occurred to me to bring my own containers, either. Now I take reusable containers (pyrex, stainless steel, glass jars and occasionally plastic) to the deli, bulk stores, Farmers Market and bakery to avoid any unnecessary packaging. It certainly makes unpacking much easier – everything goes straight in the fridge / on the shelf!

I also find them great for storing leftovers, keeping perishables fresher, and freezing food, as well as great containers for non-food items.

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

7. Cloth Wraps.

Containers are great, but bulky and not always practical – and if you stick to glass and stainless steel, they are fairly costly too! I have some reusable wraps (another gift) that I use carry lunch or snacks when space (or weight) it at a premium. They are also great for purchasing food to-go from cafes and avoid paper bags. If you don’t want to buy new ones you can make your own using old material (reuse…yay!) and beeswax (soy wax should work if you’re vegan). Find a tutorial for making your own beeswax wraps here. They are also great for keeping fresh herbs and salad leaves fresher in the fridge, and can be shaped and molded to cover bowls for leftovers.

8. Old Clothes.

Whilst I’d love to learn, I’m no sewer, and cannot whip an old worn shirt into a snazzy waistcoat or other wondrous design as seen on Pinterest. I can darn holes, and that’s it. Once my clothes are truly worn and past repair, they can still be reused. If you’re feeling creative, make into reusable food wraps (see above). I cut them into rags, where they begin life as dishcloths. As they wear further they are downgraded to kitchen surface cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, floor cleaning cloths and finally toilet or bike cleaning cloths.

In the past I’ve been sucked in and purchased those “eco friendly” cleaning cloths. This makes no sense when I have suitable fabric at home that costs me nothing and wastes no new resources!

9. Old Towels.

You can cut up old towels as mentioned above, but another great use for worn towels and bed sheets is to donate them to animal shelters. They are always in need of them, and it might be a better use than cutting that bath sheet up into 62,000 dish cloths that you’ll be using for the next 15 years!

10. Reusable Cotton Rounds.

When I was a kid, I used a flannel to wash my face. As I grew into a teenager I began using disposable cotton rounds (or cotton wool) to clean my face (which chemical-laden cleansers) and to remove make-up. That clever marketing got to me! These days I use good quality soap, I have reverted back to a flannel and I have reusable fabric rounds for removing make-up, which I throw in the washing machine and re-use. You can buy these or Etsy, or if you’re crafty make your own from old clothes (see # 8).

11. A Body Brush.

Body brushing is great for increasing circulation and removing dead skin cells, and saves buying another product for the bathroom – particularly as these exfoliating products often come in non- or only partically-recyclable containers… and commonly contain plastic microbeads to act as the exfoliant!

dry body brush Zero Waste Week

12. Toothbrushes.

Once my toothbrush is no longer fit for using to clean my teeth, it gets relegated to the cleaning basket. Toothbrushes are great for cleaning grouting, tiles, awkward corners, taps and other fiddly places, and also for cleaning bikes.

13. Baking Paper.

I’ve had this debate a few times in Instagram and Facebook – if I’m zero waste should I be using baking paper at all? Which led me to write about The Rules, and conclude that whilst it might not be the most zero waste thing to do, it does mean my homemade chocolate brownies are infinitely more delicious. Maybe in the future I’ll change, but for now it stays. That said, I use it very sparingly, and yes, I reuse it. I find a quick wipe when it’s just come out the oven is enough to clean it, and there’s always the other side. I bake often, so it doesn’t end up hanging around for too long. When it’s finished, I use it to make worm farm bedding so it doesn’t go in the bin.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays. But it always gets reused.

14. A Hankerchief.

We don’t buy tissues for our home. Instead, I use a handkerchief. My dad has always used a hankerchief, and as a kid I used to think it was completely gross. Isn’t it funny how you grow up and realise that a lot of what your parents did (and said, and told you to do) was actually not as daft as you thought?! (Note – don’t ever tell them I said that!) I started using one when I realised that you couldn’t buy boxes of tissues without the plastic around the dispensing hole. Then I realised that hankies make so much more sense, and they are far softer on the nose than any of those cleverly marketed and relatively expensive fancypants tissues ; )

15. Old Envelopes.

You can have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on your mailbox, and switch to paperless billing, and still people keep sending you stuff in the post. Grr! I use the envelopes as notebooks, to write shopping lists (pinned onto the fridge door) and I cut out squares of blank paper which I use to stick over the address to reuse other envelopes and mailing bags that I’ve received. Reuse is better than recycling, and I never need to buy these things!

…and One I Don’t.

  1. There’s one reusable item that some zero-wasters have adopted which I haven’t, and that is…reusable toilet paper (cloth wipes). It’s just not gonna happen in our house. I’m not opposed to the principle (although my husband draws the line here), but I think the constant need to keep up with the laundry (and bear in mind we live in a city with 40°C summers and no air con in our home) means the hygiene factor wins. I’m sure it works for some people, but it won’t be working for us!
toiletpaper

Recycled, ethical, plastic-free…but not zero waste : /

The thing about “reusing”; it doesn’t have to be about getting creative with empty bottles of dishwashing liquid and old toilet rolls. It’s as much about the everyday stuff that we use every day. Plus, because it’s stuff we use every day, being able to reuse (rather than buying new and then discarding to landfill)  has a far bigger impact – on our wallets, on the way we use our time, and on the environment. Why would you want to live any other way?!

Now I want to hear from you! What are your favourite things to reuse? What would you add to the list…or is there anything you’d add to the “No Go” list?! What have you found the most helpful in your zero waste journey? What has been the biggest struggle? Are you tempted to take part in Zero Waste Week this year, or have you already signed up and if so, what’s your personal challenge?! I love hearing your thoughts so please tell me in the comments below!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I sold my glass jug blender today on Gumtree. Not exactly front page news, I know, but bear with me.

When I got my new kitchen robot I listed my Magimix food processor and my jug blender on Gumtree straightaway. The Magimix sold almost instantly for the money I asked; they are solid gadgets with fantastic motors and I knew it would be easy. I did not have such optimism for the blender. It’s not a bad blender and it still works, but it wasn’t a great brand, it didn’t have a massive motor and it was a few years old. There was only one other same-model Magimix on Gumtree when I listed mine; there were hundreds of blenders.

I listed it anyway, and after a week, rather unexpectedly, I got a call. Someone wanted to buy it, and offered $20. Rather amazed that I’d even got the call in the first place I agreed (I’d listed it for $30).

When the guy turned up, he explained that he had the same blender and the glass jug had fallen off the kitchen bench and smashed. He’d called the manufacturer who’d told him the price of a new jug…and the price of a new blender. Guess which one was cheaper? Yep, the whole unit. They actually advised him on the phone to just order a whole new unit. But rather than buy a new one, he’d checked on Gumtree first, and there was mine.

It makes me so mad that companies do that deliberately. One bit breaks and you have to replace the whole thing. It’s so incredibly wasteful. Of course it doesn’t make sense that a whole unit would be cheaper than its parts. Yet it always seems to be that way. I feel like they’re trying to condition us to never try to repair things or replace parts, but mindlessly buy new ones instead.

We don’t have to stand for that! That’s why sites like Gumtree and eBay are so useful. They give all the people who need replacement parts access to loads of people who have replacement parts. We don’t have to let these companies have their way!

If I’d have sent that blender to the charity shop, there’s a chance it would have gone to landfill anyway. Not all charity shops accept electrical goods, and they also need to be able to test them for electrical safety. Plus I sometimes feel that sending stuff to the charity shops is shirking our responsibility a little bit. It’s too easy to dump our unwanted stuff and feel good about giving to charity when there’s no guarantee they’ll actually want what we’ve given them. This way I can be sure that the item I’m selling has gone on to a new home where it will be used.

People sometimes think I’m crazy for listing things on Gumtree for such small amounts of money. (I have listed things on there for free, but the lowest price I’ve listed something for was 50 cents – and it got a buyer!) But it’s not about the money. It’s about diverting something from landfill and stopping somebody else buying something brand new when there’s a suitable second-hand alternative. Double win! The argument that you haven’t got the time? Seriously?! You need to take a photo, upload it and write a short description. You can do it from your mobile phone in about 1 minute. Not exactly labour intensive!

I’m feeling pretty smug that I thwarted the electronic company’s attempt to get a new sale, pleased that I was able to give the guy exactly what he was looking for, and glad the blender isn’t stuck on a dusty shelf in a charity shop or heading to landfill.

If you’ve got stuff that’s broken or got parts missing, it’s doesn’t mean no-one will want it. I bet for every functioning blender with the glass jug broken, there’s another with an intact jug but a burnt-out motor. Even if you think something’s beyond salvage, someone else may find it useful for an art or sculpture project. Before you chuck it in the bin, give it a go on the second-hand listings sites. You’ve got nothing to lose!

Sustainability and ceramic cups at the Mosman Park EcoFair

This Saturday my boyfriend and I went to the Mosman Park EcoFair, which was just a few suburbs over from where we live. The fair takes place in the beautiful grounds of St Luke’s Church and community garden, and was a mix of stalls selling organic and fairtrade food, traders selling eco goods, seedlings, vintage clothing and all things green, and some great demonstrations and workshops. Combined with the perfect weather and fantastic atmosphere it was a really fun afternoon out.

I saw a great ‘Food Theatre’ workshop run by Chris Ferreira from The Forever Project and Hannah Sfornica from A Foodly Affair which combined sustainable (and water-wise) gardening with cooking and talked about the importance of good soil, the importance of organic and locally sourced food, how what you eat is made from what you put in the soil and your body is fueled from what you eat. Sustainability and real food, two of my favourite subjects! Hannah made the most amazing raw pumpkin soup for the audience to try. Both Hannah and Chris are fantastic presenters, and Hannah is both an inspiration and a wealth of knowledge and practical advice regarding ‘mindful’ eating, as she likes to call it. I would thoroughly recommend attending the workshops they run if you’re in the Perth area.

But my absolute favourite thing about the fair was that there was no disposable single-use plastic – no plastic bags, no takeaway cups, no plastic straws, no plastic water bottles and no plastic throwaway plates. And this was achieved in such a simple way – by having a washing-up station! All of the food stalls used ceramic plates and mugs, provided by the Church or sourced from various op shops, which were happily washed up by a team of dedicated Western Earth Carers volunteers.

It’s such an obvious concept really, doing the washing up, and the people who volunteered seemed to be having a great time in the sunshine, chatting to everyone that passed by and doing an awesome job of raising awareness of single-use plastic, and how easy it is to avoid with just a little bit of thought and effort.

And the result of their efforts was fantastic. The organizers were told they would need 20 bins for the size and length of the event (with over 65 stalls plus other activities over 6 hours) but instead, for the whole day, the waste that was generated filled just three recycling bins and one landfill bin. Result!