Recently, S. and I were asked to share some of the steps we’ve taken to reducing our waste and living in a more sustainable way. To be honest, it took some thinking since a lot of the things we do we’ve been doing for years. It’s always helpful to these things written down to refer back to when you’re getting started, so as I was doing it for our Druid community, I thought I’d do it for everyone. But firstly, credit where credit is due – S. is the one who spearheads and manages most of these things in our family, and she does a phenomenal job at it.
What is the difference between zero waste and living sustainably?
Zero waste and living sustainably come from the same start point – that we need to take better care of our eco-system – but they differ in practice. Zero waste is about physically producing less rubbish. It is becoming more and more apparent that recycling is a con and the waste we think we’re doing so well to recycle is actually being dumped in the landfill. Those who practice zero waste focus on producing as little waste as possible and generally, this means avoiding it in the first place rather than finding a way to deal with it afterwards. Living sustainably can include producing less waste, but it’s also a much broader term which can include buying ‘sustainable’ products instead of mass produced ones, as well as many other lifestyle changes. People who shop sustainably are not just looking at having less packaging waste, but also the creation of the product, from the way it’s made, to the way the workers are treated, to the way it is shipped and the amount of natural resources that go into the creation of the product
What do we practise?
We practise a blend of (aiming for) zero waste, living sustainably, enoughism and minimalism, which could probably be summed up fairly well with the term simple living. Minimalism is a bit of a buzzword at the moment and is often used in a design context (think Scandinavian style – all white walls and wood) or getting rid of all your possessions. But it’s actually much more than that. Minimalism is about saying no to the things you don’t need so that you can focus on the things you want to do in your life – and yes, that can involved getting rid of things. There’s lots more that I could write about minimalism but that’s not what this post is about. If you are interested in finding out more there is a great documentary on Netflix called Minimalism – I highly recommend it.
Enoughism is a related term, and basically it is about identifying what is enough for you, and stepping away from the need to strive for more. I’ve talked about this here, here, here, and here, so if you want to know more check out these links. I mention enoughism and minimalism here, because for us there are tied in with living sustainably. Simply put, these values are what help guide us to make choices that are right for us, and right for the earth. They are leading us down a path that steps outside of consumerism for consumerism’s sake. Both minimalism and enoughism are inextricably linked to zero waste and sustainable living – what could be more sustainably and less wasteful than buying only what you need? Of course, that’s a wonderful ideal, but we do often fall short. Plus its always a balancing act – we’re not trying for asceticism here!
First step – decide on what is important to you and find support (if that’s the way your brain works)
So, you’ve decided to take this on – your first step is to decide what your priority is. Given the current state of recycling in NZ – I’d encourage you to think about reducing waste, but there is lots to be gained from living more sustainably. And remember, all positive changes are a step in the right direction – even if they feel like baby steps! Step two is to find like minds to connect with. If you have a partner and you are on the same page, awesome! If not, there are some wonderful zero waste Facebook groups that contain a wealth of information.
Where do I start when tackling zero waste?
- Conduct a waste audit – i.e. actually stop and look at what is going into your rubbish bin and recycling bin over the course of week – you may be surprised at what you discover!
- Start with swapping any easy items into a reusable or recyclable package. For example we used to buy tomato sauce in a plastic bottle before realising that the exact same thing can be bought in a tin and stored in a jar in the fridge. In Wellington, only plastics 1 and 2 are recycled as well as unsoiled paper/card, tin and glass; so look for products packaged in these containers. When you find them, make a note of the brand so it’s easier next time you go to the supermarket.
- Buy in bulk and take your own container/bag where possible – shops like Bin Inn or Commonsense Organics are great for this – though organics will be pricier. Many supermarkets also have great bulk snack foods as well as grains/seeds/muesli in the bulk bins and this is an easier way to get started. Plan ahead and take some little cloth bags to take home your produce as supermarkets won’t tare the weight of containers at bulk stations.
- Use your own containers at deli counters or the butcher. Moore Wilsons and most butchers are happy to our meat straight into containers at their counters, and we’ve even found package free cheddar at Moore Wilsons too.
- Consider alternatives to things that can’t be bought without non-recyclable packaging. For example if you love salty chips would salty peanuts do the same job? – these can be bought in bulk bins in your own bag thereby avoiding packaging.
- If you can’t buy without plastic buy the biggest amount you can (that you’ll use) to avoid excess packaging.
- Don’t forget to think about the bathroom – soap/shampoo bars can be a great alternative to plastic bottles. Alternatively brands like eco-store often offer refill stations if you prefer liquid products.
Where do I start when focusing on living sustainably?
- Probably our number one sustainable living tip is to (try to) only buy what we need. We often have access to a lot more in our community than we realise, so borrowing things that we only need for a short time is a great solution.
- Our second best tip would be to look for things secondhand first. When we buy secondhand, we are giving items a second chance and preventing them from going into the landfill.
- If you need to buy new, look for things that are well made and will last.
- Repair and mend things where you can. S. and I both have pairs of boots that have had soles or zips replaced – it saves us money and prevents things going into the landfill.
- When purchasing clothing look at the ethical brand guide before you buy and try to find what you need in higher rated shops – these are more likely to treat their workers and the environment well.
- Give experiences, activities or (package-free) consumables rather than things for the sake of things – or conversely do what we do in our family and actually ask other people what they would like for gifts.
There are so many more things you could do as well, but if you do even just two things off this list you are making a wonderful to start to living more sustainably and in a much kinder way to our environment.