Let’s set the scene –
You’re out and about on a Saturday morning. You’ve got a take-away coffee in your hands, and you’re just about to finish it. There’s a bin coming up on the footpath, and you’re just about to place your cup in it when you notice someone tossing a plastic water bottle out of their car window, and onto the curb side.
You frown, and you think how horrible it is that someone is littering and harming the Earth. So, you go to pick it up and place it in the bin, along with your take-away coffee cup.
You think you’ve done your good deed for the day, and you think that you’ve placed your rubbish in the proper area, but did you stop to think about where your rubbish is going to, itself?
If you guessed a landfill, you’re right.
And what is a landfill?
It is a designated area for rubbish to be buried in the Earth.
So, really, instead of littering, or allowing the person in the car to litter as well, you’ve sent your take-away cup and the plastic water bottle straight to a designated littering spot for it to continue harming the Earth.
Did you pop it in the recycling bin instead?
Sadly, it’s still probably heading for a landfill.
As of last year, China drastically reduced the amount of recyclables it was importing from other countries, including Australia, and this year India has followed suit.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The Australian Council of Recycling has warned that with Asian markets closing down, […] some councils [are] already sending their kerbside recycling to landfill.”
All in all, we are facing a waste management crisis, and we need to resolve it.
“The recycling industry is at a fork in the road. If we are to save the industry we have to reboot recycling and change the way we consume.”
We can wait on the government to take charge to solve our waste issues, we can protest in the name of climate change, but the true change begins on a much smaller level: it begins right in your home and is based around your choices.
Beginning this transition is a lot less difficult than it seems.
When I first began to look into a more sustainable lifestyle, I was bombarded with information, and numerous advertisements showing me what ‘zero-waste’ was.
From what I perceived, it was having spotless, matching jar pantries. It was carrying around a cute pouch with a stainless steel straw and Keep-Cup. It was perfect people who had only produced a Mason jar full of rubbish in the past three years.
It seemed to be about perfectionism.
I’m not, nor could I ever be, any of these people — I still have a regular sized bin in my kitchen, my pantry is composed of many mismatched containers (and some of them still, *gasp*, made of plastic!), and I often forget my zero-waste on-the-go kit.
But, change doesn’t come all at once, and it’s not as picturesque as the adverts make it out to be – a zero waste lifestyle is based around consciously being aware of your input and output, being sustainable, and caring for the Earth more than you had before, and there are several factors and ways to become zero-waste, yourself.
The first change for me was to take a step back and realising how much rubbish I produce in a year.
According to Greenpeace “the average Australian produces 1.5 tonnes of waste in a year.”
That means that in my twenty-six years of life, I have produced 39 tonnes of waste (39,000 kilograms).
And what has my rubbish been composed of?
It has been packaging, whether being from food, beauty products, cleaning supplies, or various miscellanea, food waste, and fast-fashion that has barely been used.
After realising how much I have already harmed the Earth in my short life, I became pretty disgusted with myself. I had made some small, Earth-conscious steps for quite sometime before becoming zero-waste, but this made me realise how urgently I needed to further dive in to the sustainable lifestyle.
Learning to produce less waste
The second change I made was learning how to produce less waste.
Our waste comes in several forms, whether it be physical rubbish in our bins, the water we use in a day, or the ways we use energy sources.
There are so many ways to reduce, and I began with what I could physically see – my rubbish and recycling.
I began to research where I could buy package-free goods, and luckily I live in a city that is chock full of organic, ethically based shops.
Just asking around at the farmer’s market I shop at, I was met with great enthusiasm when checking to see if it was okay for me to bring my own containers for the goods. At the market, I was able to get all of my green groceries package-free, as well as other goods such as occasional dairy products, and fresh pasta. Similarly, around the corner from me was a zero-waste dry goods shop that I had only occasionally frequented.
All I have to do to shop there is to bring a clean container, and I can fill it with whichever goods I’m in need of that day.
Reuse, Reuse, Reuse!
One amazing realisation happened on one of my trips — my jars did not have to be as pristine as the adverts showed.
I saw several people in the shop using cleaned out, glass pickle jars, a plastic margarine tub, and many other receptacles.
A container doesn’t cease to be useful once you’ve used its contents — it can go on being used over and over again.
So many of our items are produced with what is meant to be single-use packaging and containers, but who says that they need to be tossed as soon as we use them?
You have the ability to re-use, re-use, and re-use whatever free jar comes along with your pickles, and that’s what is so neat about this lifestyle… it shows you that you can be useful in so many ways, and stop waste from happening so easily.
Similarly, I was able to easily reduce my beauty product and cleaning supply waste just by looking up shops that catered to my new life-style. It was that simple, and it amazed me that I hadn’t looked into being zero-waste sooner.
How much water do you use?
Another huge factor in becoming zero-waste is looking at how much water we use in one day.
Once again, as Australians, we are very wasteful in this section, too, with “the current average daily water consumption [being] 340 litres per person.”
This water waste is made up with how long our showers are, if we’re leaving the tap running whilst we brush our teeth, if we’re unnecessarily watering the garden, or using excess water while washing, and, as well, there are several ways to reduce the waste that occurs here, too.
Just by making sure to turn off the tap whilst you brush your teeth, you can reduce your water waste by over 1,000 litres per month – and you’re not just saving the Earth then, you’re also saving your pocketbook.
Waiting for the shower to heat up before jumping in?
Grab a bucket, and save that water for the garden — it’s certainly not going to worry about the temperature of the water!
Even buying your clothes second-hand can be helpful to the Earth, as well as a money saver. “It takes around 1,800 gallons [6,813 litres] of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of regular ol’ blue jeans.”
By purchasing your jeans second-hand, or purchasing them from a company that produces ethically based, slow-fashion, you can save water that you’ve never even thought about before.
Reducing Electricity Usage
Electricity usage is another area that many Australians produce waste that is often overlooked.
Even though we hear plenty about solar and wind energy being harvested, “most of Australia’s energy relies on traditional sources—non-renewable fossil fuels.”
With living in an amazing country that gets more than its fair share of sunshine, why not convert more to solar energy? Not only is it more helpful to the Earth, it’s also easy on the wallet.
Having solar panels powering your home “can expect to save you over $2,000 every year on your power bills.”
If you’re like me, and unfortunately eat too much avocado toast which hinders you from buying your own home, there are several ways to save energy, too.
Making sure to use your windows to their full maximum potentials is one of the biggest — raising the blinds to use natural light during the day and opening the windows to allow natural breezes to occur, saves quite a bit of energy and money.
To keep temperatures feeling comfortable without having to use the aircon, just take a layer off or put an extra layer on.
Keeping your showers short helps reduce the energy you use, as well washing your clothing in cold water and hanging it to dry does.
With energy bills being quite expensive in our neck of the woods, whatever efforts are put in are easily reflected both Earth side and bank account side.
All in all, there are numerous ways to become zero-waste, and it’s much easier than the adverts make it.
Simply changing how we consume, what we consume, and how much we consume is the biggest factor. Reducing the amount of packaging waste, water waste, and energy waste not only helps the Earth live its full potential, but helps your piggy bank stay full.