Our supermarkets have ditched the single-use bags, local cafes are saying goodbye to plastic straws, and we are slowly making changes to make less waste each day. There’s been a challenge going around on YouTube over these last few years where creators try and make zero-waste for a day, a week, a month. So, I decided to give it a shot – I tried a zero-waste lifestyle for a week.
I’m trying to turn my life around slowly – creating a more sustainable wardrobe, eating better, and trying out the lifestyles of successful business people. I want to live a more sustainable, smooth life which is better for myself and the environment. I figured it would be easy to reduce all the waste from my life – just bring my reusable water bottle or cup with me and pack my reusable bags and I’ll be fine, right? Well, it wasn’t exactly that easy. In fact, for me, it was impossible.
There are five R’s to consider when starting a zero-waste lifestyle:
- Refuse – say no to freebies which will just go to waste anyway, and avoid things with lots of packaging.
- Reduce – whatever you still have, if you don’t use it (ie. your cupboard filled of unworn clothes), then donate it or give it to someone who will get use out of it.
- Reuse (or repair) – reuse things if you can (ie. turn that shirt you can’t donate because there are too many holes into a rag or paper-towel substitute).
- Recycle – separate your trash from your recyclables. Don’t forget to rinse first!
- Rot – throw your kitchen scraps into a worm bin rather than the trash!
I started looking around my home and I was shocked with the amount of plastic around. I generally consider myself an environmentally friendly person, but after doing some research and self-reflection, I’m not. My cupboards are filled with chemicals in plastic bottles for cleaning, my reusable containers are plastic (for the fear of smashing glass ones), and a heap of my cups are plastic too, inherited from friends or roommates who would otherwise throw them out.
In the weeks leading up to this challenge, I purchased some reusable items – bamboo cutlery for when I’m on-the-go (six weeks later and still no sign of it), and a new reusable water bottle (after my old one went missing). While in the process of moving, I figured it would be a perfect time to start fresh. I’d say goodbye to my plastic toothbrush, my toothpaste in a plastic tube, and all the single-use items I have around the house. But something inside of me couldn’t do that.
I got to thinking – what do I do with the things I already have? Sure, I should reuse them when I can, but what about the month-old toothbrush I have, the packet of tampons I already own, the bin-bags I’ve already purchased? There’s no point throwing these things out, especially when they still have life in them. I’ve bought my toothbrush; I can’t exactly justify putting it in the garbage for the sake of a week-long challenge.
After doing some reading, I decided that it’s for the best to use what I have instead of throwing it out. A lot of people recommend using what you already have for as long as you can. Then it goes back to our five R’s – use that old toothbrush to scrub grout from tiles, use those plastic spray bottles to water your plants.
Once I got past that initial hurtle, I thought I’d be fine. I mean, Lauren Singer can fit four years of waste into a jar, and so can lots of other people. Surely I can fit a week’s worth of waste into a jar too. But no, it’s not that easy. In 2016-2017 alone, Australians made 67 million tonnes of waste, and it’s easy to see how. According to ABC’s War on Waste, one third of household rubbish is food waste, with one fifth of bought food being thrown out. China has had some changes to their recycling policy – where Australian recycling plants used to get $200-$400 a tonne for recycled plastic, it’s now dropped to $0-$135 a tonne. For some lower grade plastics, there is no market at all, meaning that it just goes straight to landfill.
Walk around your local supermarket and have a look at the options. Sure, we’ve said goodbye to the plastic bags and straws, but what about everything else? Meat is pre-packaged in plastic, chips and chocolates are covered in packaging, even batteries and light-globes are heavily packaged. Some people would say that eating healthy or going vegan would be a great alternative – save waste, save animals, and be healthier. Except, fruits and veggies are often packaged heavily too (even at local markets). We can try and recycle these plastics, but unfortunately when we recycle our materials incorrectly, they end up being thrown into landfill anyway.
So, I didn’t make zero-waste for a week. Actually, I made a lot more than that – not just directly, but through driving my car, through the brands I’ve purchased, through my own job where making zero-waste is literally unavoidable. Thankfully, I did learn how to recycle properly, I did learn about sustainable brands, and I did become more aware of what I was purchasing and the environmental impact I have. I can confidentially say that while I still made waste this week, I made less than normal (and this is just the start).
Zero-waste isn’t a trendy challenge, and it’s not something you can just do in a week. Zero-waste is a lifestyle, and it’s a process. Sure, I have plastic garbage bags right now, I use a plastic toothbrush, and I have disposable cotton rounds. However once I’ve used those, I will purchase more sustainable options – opting for a bamboo toothbrush and reusable rounds to remove my makeup.
I’m not going to punish myself for the purchases I’ve made before. I don’t have to store all my waste in a jar like it’s a trophy, because it’s sure as hell not a competition. I use reusable bags, I have metal straws, I buy from bulk-food stores (with my glass jars) whenever I can. In the future, I’ll purchase more sustainably, I’ll remember the five R’s, and I’ll make smarter choices. This is my journey to zero-waste. It may be a slow one, but at least it’s a start.