How to live zero waste: The first steps

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So you’ve read up on what zero waste actually means and why you should strive to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.

You may even have got the first three items in your zero waste arsenal all packed up in your reusable cloth bag... But now what?

What are the first steps to take to live zero waste? Which areas should you tackle first, and how do you adopt zero waste practices without driving your families and friends mad?

Full disclaimer: you will probably at some point along your journey to live zero waste drive at least one family member or friend mad. My husband is still miffed that I have put a stop to his ice cream addiction (in plastic tubs) through cajoling/bribery/guilt.

If you’re ready to take the first step in your journey to zero waste, here is where you should start.

Decide how you will dispose of your food waste

Without a doubt, one of the key components to live zero waste is dealing with your food waste.

According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), 35% of the average Australian household bin is food waste.

There are a number of reasons why that figure is so high. We cook (or buy) too much food, leftovers go uneaten, food is mistakenly thrown out before the use by date, we buy food items we already have in the pantry/fridge, we don’t stick to a shopping list and… we’re lazy (we’ve all been guilty of ordering UberEats instead of cooking the food we’ve already bought at one time or another!).

Unfortunately, when that food waste hits landfill it emits a greenhouse gas known as methane, which is more potent than the carbon pollution that comes out of your car exhaust. Who knew?!

In order to divert your own food waste from landfill you will need to decide on the best method of disposing of it.

You essentially have three options: a Bokashi bin, a worm farm or composting. I go into more detail on all three options here.

If you visit the Compost Revolution website you’ll find blogs and tutorials on all three options. You may also be eligible for discounts on equipment depending on which council you reside in.

You could also donate your food scraps via ShareWaste, a website which connects people to others in their local area who are happy to receive food waste for their own composting purposes.

In our home, we initially started off with a Bokashi bin but then upgraded to a worm farm (I wish we’d done this sooner).

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Find your local bulk food store

If you’re lucky enough to live in the vicinity of one of The Source bulk food stores you’ll find your journey to live zero waste a lot easier.

Most of their 47 stores are located in inner-city areas of Australia’s capital cities, though there are some regional stores in areas like Traralgon in Victoria, and Byron Bay (where The Source originated) and Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.

There are plenty of other bulk food store options though. Try using this handy bulk food store locator here. Just punch in your postcode and stores will pop up in your area.

You’ll find pretty much everything you would normally buy in plastic packaging in a supermarket at a bulk food store – pasta, rice, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, chocolate... you get the idea.

You can also buy dish washing liquid and laundry powder, soaps and baking soda, all without unnecessary packaging.

Customers can either bring in their own glass jars or cloth bags, or use the brown paper bags the stores provide.

Committing to buying a lot of your food from a bulk food store will eliminate a substantial amount of plastic packaging from your bin.

Before going zero waste I used to make up my own cereal using oats, chia seeds, linseeds, etc (you can find the full recipe here) and I would purchase all of these items from the supermarket in separate plastic packets. Those packets are now in landfill, of course.

Take your own containers… everywhere

Zero wasters are near on obsessed with glass jars/containers. You don’t need to outlay a huge chunk of change on fancy mason jars though. Head to your local op shop to stock up, or reuse any jars of store-bought sauces and spreads you may currently have in your pantry once you’ve finished them.

You can also ask friends and family to put aside any glass jars for you that they would normally dispose of.

Anywhere you would normally buy food that would be packaged in plastic takeaway containers, such as a deli (even a supermarket deli) you can take in your own container.

I have never been met with resistance when I hand my glass containers over. If the person serving you looks a little puzzled try making a joke (I find, “I’m saving the world one plastic container at a time!” works well).

I’ve handed over glass jars/containers for olives, cheese, takeaway coffee (when I’ve left my KeepCup at home), and even ice cream (hubby was placated with that offering).

Read part two of our “How to live zero waste” series here.