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5 Mindset Shifts for Zero Waste Living

When I started my journey to zero waste living back in 2012, I didn’t actually know that’s what I was doing. I’d never heard of the term ‘zero waste’ and although Bea Johnson was already writing her blog Zero Waste Home, I hadn’t heard of her, either.

I was simply interested in reducing my rubbish, which had started out as a plastic-free adventure, and expanded when I went to a recycling facility for the first time and saw all how much other single-use packaging (cardboard, cans, tins, etc) was amassed in just a single day, all waiting to be baled and shipped to Asia.

Fast forward seven years, and the zero waste lifestyle is a growing movement that has definitely captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of many. And by many I not only mean those of us who want to reduce our footprint and take responsibility for our waste, but the marketers that have embraced the zero waste movement as a way to sell us more stuff that we probably don’t need.

No wonder then, that critics claim zero waste is expensive. Marketing exists to sell us stuff, and those marketers are hard at work telling us we need to purchase all kinds of things to be zero waste.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve purchased some things which have definitely helped me reduce my waste. Most zero waste advocates have bought something. But buying something (we’ve all done it) isn’t to be confused with embracing a consumer mindset, or turning the zero waste lifestyle into yet another way to consume more than we need.

I buy something if I need it. That in no way means that it’s an essential for anyone else, that everyone else needs it, or that I’m encouraging others to make a purchase.

I think anyone who is trying to reduce their waste and live more sustainably would say the same.

Because zero waste isn’t the path to buying more things. At the start, it’s a bit of a rite-of-passage, the buying of ‘zero waste’ things – whether we truly ‘need’ them or just think we do.

But in time we start to settle into a different mindset. The true zero waste mindset.

I was thinking about how my mindset has shifted since embracing the zero waste lifestyle. Here’s five zero waste mantras that I hold up as true to the ethos of living with less waste. No buying of shiny things included.

Everything is a Resource

Everything is a resource. Whether we’re talking about ‘stuff’, the packaging the stuff came in, the resources used to make it, ship it and get it to our homes, the people who worked to make this happen, the space it now takes up in our homes – every step requires materials, time, energy and land.

It’s no longer enough for me to just look at the product, see a lack of plastic packaging and consider it to be zero waste. I need to look at the whole picture… because waste happens before the item gets to me.

I can’t know all the answers, but I can make best guesses. Where did it come from? How was it made? Who made it? How was it transported? Is it made to last? Is it recyclable? How can I dispose of it, if I no longer need it?

This tends to lead me to holding off purchasing straightaway (waiting helps me feel sure that it’s something I truly need), borrowing if that’s an option, or choosing second-hand.

Value What You Have

Value isn’t just about how much they cost or what they are worth in monetary terms. Value is about seeing how much effort and/or resources went into making those things, and also how much benefit they bring to us (perhaps joy, perhaps because they save time, perhaps because they make life easier).

Zero waste means I respect the things I do buy and the things I own much more than I might have in the past, and I look after my things properly.

For example, knowing that a single pair of jeans takes 7,600 litres (2000 gallons) of water to make doesn’t stop me buying jeans: there is nothing more comfortable, surely, than a good pair of jeans? But it makes me prioritise buying second-hand (or ethical, well-made) jeans, ensures I wear them often and means I won’t go shopping for replacement jeans until my current ones are completely worn out.

Zero waste means embracing scuffs, chips, cracks, worn parts or dents as part of an item’s story rather than seeing them some kind of defect.

Not to mention, it means ensuring that those things I no longer use are not left languishing in my home – they still have value to someone, and to keep them is a waste of resources someone else could be using.

Embrace Making Do

Resisting the temptation to buy stuff can sometimes be a struggle. There’s always something new and shiny out there, stuff that will save us time and make life easier, things that look beautiful. Zero waste is about resisting the urge to accumulate yet more stuff, and make do with what we have.

That goes for second-hand, too! Buying second-hand is great when we need something and can’t make do with what we have. Buying second-hand things that we don’t need (but are oh-such-a-bargain) and rarely use is not very zero waste.

Sure, sometimes we need to buy stuff. But the most zero waste thing is always going to be making do. The more we make do, the more we reduce our footprint.

Fix What is Broken

A big part of making do and reducing waste is fixing anything that breaks, rather than seeing it as an excuse to chuck it in the bin and head to the store to buy another.

Sometimes it is something we can fix ourselves – maybe we just need to buy some glue or a spare part. Sometimes we need to borrow a tool. Other times we might not have the skills or knowledge, but we know someone who does (probably that person we borrowed the tools from).

Occasionally we have to pay someone to fix things. What a great investment! Keeping our stuff out of landfill, reducing demand for new resources, ensuring extremely useful skills stay alive and paying someone for their time and knowledge. So many benefits to be had at once.

I’ve got a pair of boots that I purchased circa 2010. My guess is that at the time they cost around £65 (AU $110). To date, I’ve probably spent twice as much repairing them – definitely upwards of $200 – over the last 9 years. They’ve been into the shoe repair place more times than I can count, and have had soles replaced, heels fixed, bits glued back on, stitches re-sewn, a toe-cap put in, a zipper changed, laces swapped.

It’s been worth it to save resources (no new boots purchased in the last 10 years), save time (no shopping for new boots required), and also keep my favourite and most comfortable pair of boots on my feet.

Celebrate the Old

In the same way that I used to ‘upgrade’ things before they really needed to be replaced and feel excited by the thought of new things, now I’m excited by the thought of making things last as long as possible.

Instead of feeling any kind of embarrassment about how old things are, I feel a sense of pride that I’m still using them and that they’ve lasted.

This bag was purchased around 2005. I use it every time I make a trip to the bulk store. It’s my favourite shopping bag, even though it wasn’t designed (or purchased) for that purpose – I barely knew what a bulk store was when I bought it!

There’s nothing I consider more personally satisfying than responding to ‘oooh that’s nice, is it new?’ with ‘nope, it’s x years old and I got it from the charity shop!’

Old doesn’t mean antiques, either – at least, not in my house. It means stuff I’ve owned for a while. Most of it is monetarily worthless, but it still provides me with heaps of value.

Imagine if, as a society, we shifted from feeling proud of how new things were, to how long we’d made the old things last?

Zero waste is about valuing resources, whether they be new or old. It’s about reducing what we buy, and we do this by rethinking our relationship to our stuff and respecting the things we have and the people who made them. At least, that’s how it happened for me.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about these zero waste mantras? Are there any you’d add? Any you disagree with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

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6 Places to Declutter To that Aren’t the Charity Shop (or the Bin)

I think decluttering is both a good thing (for our sanity and our stress levels), and a zero waste thing to do. Yes, a zero waste thing. Let’s make no mistake: keeping stuff in our homes that we don’t like, don’t need and never use is a terrible waste of resources.

Of course, yes, the most zero waste thing of all is to buy things once, cherish them forever, use them often, and pass them onto our children and grandchildren. But many things are not designed for this, good intentions don’t always work out, items date, technology is superceded, and our lives (and our minds) change over time.

So sometimes we have things we don’t like, don’t need and never use in our homes. But chucking this stuff in the bin or offloading at the nearest charity shop even though we’re pretty sure the stuff we are offloading isn’t definitely saleable definitely isn’t the best thing to do with it.

Which is often why we don’t declutter the things we no longer use. We don’t want to throw things in the bin, but we don’t know what else to do with them. So we let them languish in cupboards and drawers, and we feel guilty every time we see them.

Decluttering does not come down to just two options: landfill or closest charity shop. There are so many other places to take our stuff, and ways to find new owners for things we don’t need.

Keeping our stuff in circulation and giving others the opportunity to use these things is the best thing we can do for this stuff. This is how we declutter, zero waste style.

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

The most well-known online auction site is eBay, with 39 country-specific sites, and a presence in 100 countries. But it’s not the only option, and many other smaller auction sites exist with cheaper fees.

These sites have a national and sometimes global audience, making them ideal for items that can be mailed easily (meaning things that are lightweight or easy to pack, such as small electronics, clothing and homewares).

These auction sites are great for connecting your stuff with buyers looking for that item or brand. It’s also useful for people looking for parts, or even items in need of repair (particularly electronics).

Many high quality, unusual or valuable items can be missed in charity shops because they rely on foot traffic and opportunistic sales. With auction sites, customers can browse but they can also search specifically for things they need.

The price of your item and postage is quoted upfront to potential buyers, who will factor these costs into their bids. Listings on eBay can begin at $0.01, so you can still give things away on these sites. And you can cover the postage yourself, if you prefer.

Whilst pick-up only is an option for listing bulky items, there are better platforms to use.

Online Classifieds

I’m a huge fan of Gumtree, which is currently the number 1 online classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. American readers will probably be more familar with Craigslist.

There are also some newer kids on the block such as LetGo, Preloved and Shpock.

Online classified allow you to upload an image (or multiple images) and either set a price or offer the item for free. Most sites are free to use with paid upgrades available.

Classifieds often appeal more to local users, with items like furniture, tools, larger kitchen appliances, bicycles and white goods being easy to pass on. Buyers will collect from your home and can inspect the item before they take it.

Again, people will take broken items for parts and damaged items for repair, so it is worth posting these items and seeing if there is a response. Items can be listed in less than a minute, and it never hurts to try.

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

Charity shops take items to resell, but charities and non-government organisations also collect items to repair and reuse, or pass on to underprivileged communities and groups both locally and overseas.

Animal charities accept blankets, towels and other bedding, old toys, accessories, and food donations.

Women’s refuges, homeless shelters and refugee organisations may accept bedding, furniture, clothing, toiletries, white goods, small appliances and more. The Refugee Council of Australia has a database of refugee organisations accepting donations and what types of goods they accept, which will also give you an idea of the kinds of items that are wanted.

Other organisations focus on specific items: old glasses (they can often be dropped at a local optician and will be tested before being redistributed), sports equipment (Fairgame collects and redistributes equipment across Australia), computers and old electronics, bras, bicycles and more.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with people in your area, and find new homes for your stuff. I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing project, which operates as a series of hyper-local Facebook groups. No-one is allowed to join more than one group – the one where they live.

The advantage of decluttering items using the Buy Nothing group is that all the members are your neighbours, so travel time is negligible and journeys are often combined with regular commutes, shop visits or school drop-offs. This means people will be far more willing to take items off your hands than if they had to hop in the car and drive across town.

There are other Facebook groups that work in a similar way, such as the Good Karma network on the east coast of Australia. There also many zero waste groups that allow the offering of stuff (glass jars are always particularly well received).

There are even a few groups called “Give Away Free Stuff” – exactly what we need to find new owners for old things!

Online Neighbourhood Networks

These are neighbourhood networks, a little like the Buy Nothing project or Good Karma Network except rather than being run through Facebook, they have their own platforms. Nextdoor is one of the fastest growing sites. Whilst they aren’t solely for the giving and receiving of second-hand stuff (they also deal with lost pets, neighbourhood watch type issues and other things), sharing is a large part of their service.

Alternatively, Freecycle (and Freegle in the UK) are neighbourhood sites solely dedicated to the passing on and accepting of free stuff.

People You Know

Last but not least, don’t forget that you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your stuff. Probably not everything, but it is worth asking. You could ask people directly or post on social media.

If they are not people who generally shop at second-hand stores it is a good way to gently entice them into the preloved life, and they might be more willing to take things from people they know (you!) than buy from a stranger.

Sometimes exploring these avenues still draws a blank. Even then, there’s still the option of ensuring the materials are recycled rather than putting in the bin. But there’s so much to say about that, it is another post entirely!

The truth is, someone, somewhere wants what we have. We can do our best to find a new owner for our old things. We may not always find somewhere, but it takes minimal effort to ask the question, to do a quick google search for local organisations, or to pop a photo on an online site.

Stuff is useful. Resources are valuable. Success isn’t guaranteed, but we have to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your best solutions for re-homing unwanted items? What is the most unexpected item you’ve managed to successfully re-home with someone else? Anything that you particularly struggle with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!