Some people think or expect zero waste lifestyle practitioners to create no waste at all. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog and elsewhere, there is no such thing as 100% sustainability in life unless you live away from modern civilisation perhaps in an undiscovered indigenous tribe somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest.
The whole point of the zero waste lifestyle is to avoid creating garbage in the first place – garbage that is destined for landfill.
This means reusing, recycling, upcycling and composting products as much as possible. It also means reducing the consumption of single-use ‘disposable’ items to begin with, even if it can be composted and recycled.
The key to zero waste living is to ditch all products that are disposable and unnecessary, that will end up as ‘garbage’. The next step is to find reusable eco-friendly alternatives for products that you often purchase and make the switch.
To help you get started, here are 22 disposable items you really should stop buying (or accepting into your home) to help you live a more waste-free and minimalist lifestyle:
1. Plastic bags
Non-biodegradable plastic bags are truly a menace to our natural environment. They clog water ways, pollute parks and beaches and are a nuisance to our wildlife. It’s little wonder that local governments around the world are waging war on single-use disposable plastic bags including the Queensland Government who will ban disposable plastic bags in 2018.
The solution? Take reusable cloth bags and say no to plastic bags at the checkout.
2. Paper towels
Paper towels may be convenient and biodegradable, but the fossil fuels used to produce (and transport) this disposable product is completely wasteful and unnecessary.
The solution? Use reusable, washable cloth towels. To be extra ‘green’, I recommend purchasing these second hand or just upcycle some by cutting up pieces of cotton from old or worn out clothing.
3. Facial tissues & napkins
Facial tissues were first introduced in 1924 by Kimberly-Clark as ‘Kleenex’ and then marketed to the world as a convenient product that would improve hygiene. Even if they are made from recycled paper, disposable tissues and serviettes are still wasteful.
Related Post: How Advertising Has Contributed to Wasteful Consumption
The solution? Take a handkerchief with you at all times. Use it when you need to and throw it in the washing machine when it needs a clean. Handkerchiefs can also be purchased second hand but if that makes you queasy, just make your own.
4. Aluminium Foil
While you can wash and reuse aluminium foil, most people don’t, it’s often just thrown out like all other products built for disposability and convenience. While some people can’t imagine roasting a chook without aluminium foil there are better alternatives and some that won’t leach aluminium into your food.
The solution? Ashley Housley, founder and mummy blogger of Whistle Pig Hollow suggests using covering dishes with a glass Pyrex pan if you’re roasting a chicken. If you’re using aluminium to store food, ditch it for glass food containers. If you enjoy camping, ditch the tin foil and bring your own cookware. They can be used over any campfire!
5. Plastic wrap
Plastic cling wrap was developed to wrap and preserve food and seems ingrained in our culture of convenience but its disposability is creating a huge problem for the environment, not to mention that it’s often made from synthetically-developed PVC.
The solution? Use reusable food wraps made from hemp, beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin. You can purchase some eco-friendly food wraps at Life Without Plastic.
6. Freezer bags & zip lock bags
Forget purchasing freezer bags and zip lock bags. Can you even imagine how many consumers around the world are using, abusing and then tossing these bags into landfill?
The solution? Reusable washable glass containers or even plastic containers.
7. Bamboo skewers
While bamboo and wooden skewers are eco-friendly in the sense that they are made from natural materials, the resources used to produce them are wasted. Not to mention that they are usually disposed of after one use.
The solution? Purchase reusable stainless steel (metal) skewers.
8. Coffee pods
They’re ending up in landfill faster than you can pour yourself a cup of coffee. Yes they can be recycled, but that’s the ‘cure’. The best option is prevention, or in this case, reducing waste.
The solution? Don’t buy them or the coffee pod machines. Make coffee the old fashioned way, in a coffee plunger, stove top espresso or go to a cafe and enjoy one made by a barista – just don’t forget your reusable coffee cup of course!
9. Kitchen sponge
Unlike the loofah sponges that are derived from plants, kitchen sponges are made from artificial fibres such as polyurethane. Not only is it non-biodegradable, it’s thrown out and sent to landfill.
The solution? Use a dish cloth that’s reusable and washable.
How many of us have been presented with toothpicks at a party when served appetisers such as olives and cheese? How many of us consider the wastefulness of it? While toothpicks are compostable, there is an even better solution.
The solution? Opt for stainless steel turkey lacers that are reusable and washable.
11. Cotton buds, also known as ‘Q Tips’
Avoid at all costs. There’s a reason why we have wax in our ears and we shouldn’t try to clean it out with cotton buds. Watch this video to learn why poking cotton buds in your ears is bad for you.
12. Body Wash
Nice smelling and often nicely packaged, but no matter how organic your body wash, it’s still wasteful. Once you’ve used it up, the packaging still needs to be recycled. Have you ever considered the amount of fossil fuels that it has taken to produce 1 litre? I don’t even want to.
The solution? Unpackaged bulk bar soap often sold at local markets and sometimes even farmers markets.
13. Cotton balls
Most cotton is grown using large amounts of pesticides and it is also a water-intensive crop. But even if the cotton balls you use to remove your eye make-up or cleanse your face is grown organically, you will still only use once and then throw away. This is wasteful.
The solution? Use a face cloth, soften it if you must with water, and then gently use on your face.
14. Hair spray
Hair spray is an unnecessary beauty item that should be avoided given its toxicity humans and the environment. It just smells of chemicals don’t you think? However there are times when you might feel that you need it to control your hair.
The solution? Opt for a natural solution and make it yourself. Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home and often referred to as the pioneer of the Zero Waste lifestyle, has this great hair spray recipe you can try:
2-4 lemons sliced
Cover with water
Simmer for 30 min
Pour in spray bottle
Add 1tb rum or vodka
15. Feminine hygiene products
While organic cotton tampons are a great eco-friendly option, it still uses a large amount of non-renewable energy to produce and once used, just ends up in landfill.
The solution? Menstrual cups that can be washed and reused such as The Diva Cup. At first there is the ick factor. I should know, I remember that day well. It took me hours to work up the courage not only to put it in, but then I was stressing so much I couldn’t take it out! An hour of panicking later and I managed to do just that. Now that I’ve been using a menstrual cup for years, I’m not sure how I lived without one!
16. Facial Wipes
Cleansing facial wipes are the epitome of beauty laziness, created especially for disposability. Even if labelled ‘biodegradable’ the non-renewable resources consumed just to create a set of convenient cleansing wipes is shameful.
The solution? Wash your face with water, use coconut oil to remove makeup and use a face cloth that’s machine-washable and reusable.
We all want pearly whites but at what cost to the environment? Toothpaste tubes are binned each time they are used, the price the earth pays for us humans following dentist’s orders.
The solution? Make your own toothpaste. Follow this DIY toothpaste recipe by zero-waste lifestyle advocate and founder of Trash is for Tossers blog, Lauren Singer:
18. Plastic toothbrush
As with a toothpaste tube, a plastic toothbrush is generally sent to landfill once its usefulness is gone.
The solution? Purchase a bamboo compostable toothbrush.
19. Cleaning products
There are many commercial chemical based cleaning products on the markets that are highly toxic. Some are much better in that they are made from natural and organic ingredients. Unfortunately no matter how eco-friendly these ingredients, when you consider the fossil fuels required to produce and transport the bottles and then the amount of energy it takes to recycle the packaging, the impact on the environment can scarcely be called “minimal”.
The solution? Make your own all-purpose cleaner with 1/4 cup bi-carb soda or baking soda, 2 litres of water, 1/2 cup vinegar and add a couple of drops of an essential oil such as tea tree oil if you prefer fragrance.
Related Post: A Guide to Sustainable Cleaning
20. Wrapping paper
Wrapping paper is a nice to have but definitely not a need to have. It is one product you can definitely do without.
The Solution? If you’re given birthday or Christmas gifts, make sure to save the paper and reuse it so you don’t need to purchase wrapping paper. If you don’t have any wrapping paper to reuse, try using old newspapers destined for recycling or composting or paper bags you’ve saved from shopping.
I am partial to purchasing magazines and at one point in my twenties had subscriptions to Vogue, In Style and Shop Til You Drop all at once. A beautiful magazine cover draws me in, but it’s the printed words conjured up by a talented writer or clever journalist that gets me every time. Purchasing a magazine and reading it from cover to cover brings great joy. But it is short lived as once that issue has been devoured, you move on to the next one. The magazines then sit on our book shelves collecting dust and taking up precious room.
The solution? Borrow magazines from the library. You get all the pleasure of reading the magazine without necessarily having to own it. This way you won’t end up with piles of magazines that need to be recycled saving you time, money and the planet’s finite resources.
So many newspapers created each day around the world only to be discarded at the end of it. How much energy went into growing the trees? How much water? What of the coal that needed to be burned so that the printing factory had the electricity it needed to print the paper? How about the petrol and gasoline needed for the trucks to transport the paper to newsagencies across towns and cities? The cost of our daily newspaper fix is high.
The solution? Get a digital subscription.
Starting your zero waste journey? I recommend checking out the
Hoarder Minimalist Book, Workbook and Planner Bundle, a practical guide on how you can start to declutter your home and rethink the way you view stuff.
Now over to you: Are you following a zero-waste lifestyle? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What’s your one piece of advice for others looking to embrace a waste-free lifestyle? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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