A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life

January 14, 2020

A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life

Zero waste can feel daunting, unachievable, and overwhelming.
I want to make it a simpler.

I've create a zero waste challenge that covers the entire year, giving you a prompt to focus your time and energy on. The purpose is to break big sustainability goals down into smaller sustainable steps that bring you closer to living a more considered life without feeling overwhelmed.

You can do this challenge at your own pace, switch around the monthly prompts, focus more on one task than another, or skip something until you feel ready and comfortable to make the changes. Each prompt contains lots of little tasks and habit shifts that you can skip, adapt, or adopt all at once. It might not take you all month to figure out how to accomplish the monthly task, or perhaps it'll take longer because you're really invested in and excited about the change.

This challenge is all about making zero waste more attainable and flexible. Living sustainably needs to not only be about what's best for the planet but what's most sustainable for us too, and hopefully this zero waste challenge makes that possible.

Below is a brief overview of the zero waste challenge, month by month, with a little bit about the challenges and links to existing blog posts to help you get started. Every month there will be an accompanying blog post or social media stories about each topic, fleshing out the big ideas and small habit shifts that will help you to make the changes. You can jump right in and get started right now or wait for the extra content each month, it's up to you.

Before even getting started: assess your ecological footprint. It'll give you an idea of where best to focus your time and energy with the areas of your life that are the least sustainable. Along with assessing your ecological footprint, audit what you spend your money on and what you throw away.

Focusing on the big impact changes will have more effect on reducing your waste and protecting the planet (although you might not visibly see those effects). That means buying less of everything, eating a plant-based diet, and switching transport from planes and cars to bikes and trains.



A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life


The Zero Waste Challenge


1 | Buy Less

We can't shop our way to a more sustainable world. The throw-away culture our society has created is destroying the planet. Avoiding plastic is great, buying responsibly-made products is awesome, but the only way we can truly reduce our impact is to buy less, use up what we already own, and only buy what we need. It's just as important to consider how the things we buy are made. Mass production has created a system where items are designed to be produced, sold, and then discarded at a rapid pace. We're encouraged to fill our homes with too much stuff and get rid of it when we're bored or told it's no longer on trend. Everything is made to be cheap and disposable so we end up with bulging wardrobes and shelves packed with too much stuff we instantly grow tired of yet we’re encouraged to buy more.

There are a few simple and practical ways to make more considered purchases. Audit your spending habits to see where your disposable income goes. Consider a trying a no-spend month or low-buy challenge to see where you struggle the most. Adopt a minimalist approach to style, from your wardrobe to your home. Borrow from your friends and neighbours and buy things to last, made responsibly. My directories on places to shop sustainably will help you find sustainable alternatives when the items you already own run out.

Switch to green household products, buy products that haven't been tested on animals, learn who made your clothes, and try a capsule wardrobe or start an all-seasons wardrobe. By making considered choices about what we buy, we not longer buying things we do not need or want, that do not serve us or make us feel good.

Questions to ask to stop yourself buying things you do not need.
  • Why do I want this?
  • Is this the right one?
  • Do I already own something similar?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Does it add value to my life?



2 | Reduce Food Waste

From the diet we adopt to the food that gets left on the shelf, food waste is a huge problem. The solution starts with our diet and ends with demanding change from our supermarkets, groceries, and manufacturers.

Eating more sustainably ultimately means eating more diverse plant-based foods and eliminating animal products from our diet. Switching to a plant-based diet as it's the single biggest way we can reduce our impact on the planet. It also happens to be more affordable and often healthier for us.

Avoiding food waste that happens in our homes means making food from scratch, growing our own produce, eating up leftovers, and composting what's left (even if we live in an apartment). Meal planning can help you to shop for what you need when you need it so there's less waste. Support your local market (if you have one) where you can buy unpackaged fresh foods and buy up the packaged reduced food items in the supermarkets. Food waste has a far greater impact on the planet than the plastic packaging it comes wrapped it.



3 | Travel Slowly

We often take travel for granted. It's so easy to hop in our cars and drive wherever we need to be, even when its only a 15 minute walk away, instead of getting the bus or train. Travel has become faster, easier, and cheaper; the more frequently we travel and the further we venture, the more destructive it becomes to our planet.

Changing or limiting our travel habits isn't always possible and depends on a lot of factors we can't always avoid, however, opting for more Earth-friendly solutions whenever possible can help reduce our environmental impact. If we're able to, we should be choosing to walk or cycle to our destination wherever possible, use public transport or a carpool system, and limit our long distance travel by avoiding flights entirely; or at the very least taking fewer longer trips and planning direct routes.



4 | Create A Zero Waste Kit

A zero waste kit can help us to not only reduce our waste but avoid it entirely by having reusables to hand when we need them. Use what you already own (or thrift for the things you need) to create a small kit that will enable you to remove disposable single-use items from your daily routine.

If you regularly buy coffee served in disposable cups or pick up lunch wrapped in plastic, skip the waste by putting together a little kit you can carry with you made up of all the basics: a water bottle, coffee cup, cutlery, napkin, and lunch box.

See what you already have at home. Repurpose empty jars for storing your homemade lunch or reuse old plastic pots as a container for picking up lunch from the canteen. Take the cutlery you need from your kitchen drawer and wrap it in a cloth napkin as a makeshift cutlery wrap. No need for buying any new fancy zero waste essentials! Everything should be thrifted, if possible and only if you really need it.

If you're wondering about food shopping without plastic bags, here's a guide to zero waste shopping with everything from avoiding waste in the supermarkets and buying bulk from zero waste stores.



5 | Simplify Life

When we simplify our lives, avoiding waste gets a whole lot easier. Zero waste and minimalism can work together at helping up to consider how our decisions (about what to buy) affects the world around us, not just our personal space. By striving to buy less, choose well, make do or do without, and to use things up until there's nothing left, we can live a more considered, less wasteful life.

Simplifying our lives often starts with decluttering. Decluttering responsibly not only helps us make space in our homes and our lives, we can donate the things we don't need or want anyone to those who do. What's left are the things that are either useful or beautiful to us, and preventing clutter from creeping back in can help us to avoid waste in the future.

Simplifying our lives is a big task that can take years. It's about living a more considered life that enables us to be ore mindful of how we live our lives through the choices we make and how those choices affect the lives of others. Removal of non-essential stuff enables us to avoid excess and live with less so that we can be happier and healthier, helping us to appreciate what we have and focus on what's important. I have written many articles about simple living, minimalism, and decluttering that will help you to simplify your life.



6 | Reduce Single-Use Plastics and Avoidable Waste

When we think of zero waste living the first thing we think of is often plastic. While there are bigger environmental issues to tackle than packaging, it is one we have a good amount of control over as individuals. We can often choose not to buy pre-packaged snacks, plastic wrapped produce, and disposable cups, and so "no" to unnecessary freebies and junk mail. It takes a little bit of effort and perseverance as well as the willingness to change habits but we can, as individuals, reduce the amount of avoidable waste we create - and we have a responsibility to do so.

Avoiding this waste can be super easy or super hard depending on your lifestyle, where you live, and your ability to do something about it. These are the ways you can go plastic-free, some habits might be easy to adopt while others might be difficult to avoid. Work through the list and do the best you can. Stopping junk mail can be relatively easy if you're willing to fight it for a few months, and reusing plastic we already own is easy enough that we can all do it.

Say "no" to the things you don't need, like single-use cutlery and napkins or pointless plastic freebies. Reduce the amount of packaged snacks you buy by making you own food instead. Limit the amount of fast food you eat and either eat in or take your own containers to sidestep the waste it creates. When it comes to the holidays, rethink gifting by talking to friends and family; ask for zero waste gifts, switch to low waste wrapping, and consider buying gifts second-hand.



A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life


7 | Save Energy

A relatively simple switch we can make as home owners or renters is being more mindful of the energy we use and waste. We just need to be mindful of the energy we're using, whether we're wasting it, and how we can change our habits to use less and save more.

Easy ways to save energy at home is to wash our clothes are lower temperatures, turn appliances off when they're not in use (instead of leaving them on standby), replacing low-efficiency bulbs with energy-saving alternatives, switching off lights when we leave the room, and fixing taps that drip and using draught excluders to help retain heat. A full refrigerator and freezer is more efficient (just make sure not to waste the food in it), not leaving the door open longer than necessary, and ensuring there is a tight seal means less energy wasted. Shorter showers help reduce waste and there's no excuse for leaving a tap running unnecessarily.

The price of 'green' energy providers is falling and there are a few companies offering more sustainable energy, where some or all of the electricity you use comes from a renewable source. I switched to Bulb energy who provide a 100% renewable energy tariff. Look into whether there is an affordable energy provider for your home.



8 | Choose Second-Hand

We buy and discard way too much stuff. A habit we all need to adopt is to look for a second-hand alternative before buying new. There are plenty of like-new items still with their tags on or in their original box, available to thrift from an online store or second-hand shop. Shopping these pre-loved items gives them a new life, creates a circular economy, and saves them from being sent to landfill. Thrifting for the things we need not only saves us money but reduces the amount of waste there is.

Thrifting might not be possible for everything we need. Location of stores, availability of products, time, convenience, and sizing can all be issues when buying second-hand. But with websites and apps like eBay, Depop, and Facebook Marketplace, there are plenty of online places we can shop for the things we need.

We might not always be able to find exactly what we need second-hand yet the very least we can do is try to shop more sustainably by trying to thrift as much as possible. These are my tips for shopping second-hand online and in person.



9 | Make Sustainable Swaps

There are so many ways we can live more sustainably by making small changes to our habits. This list of zero waste swaps covers everything from the daily essentials to kitchen utensils, and can help us to reduce the waste we create or perhaps even avoid it completely. Making these swaps is more manageable if you work through each section, making changes where you can whenever you can. It can be tempting to throw out the plastic you already have in favour of exciting new sustainable products but there's nothing sustainable about waste! Use up what you already have, buy only what you need, and shop second-hand if you can. As you use up your old products in plastic bottles and tubs, you can replace them with more eco-friendly, plastic-free alternatives.

It's really important to support brands who treat their workers fairly and don't use animals to produce their products. My sustainable fashion directory will help you find ethical brands while my cruelty-free beauty directory will give you recommendations for brands who do not tested on animals. Opt for eco-friendly cleaning products and be wary of greenwashing.



10 | Change Habits

A big part of zero waste living is knowing what you can change and accepting what you can't. Focus on the habits shifts that reduce your environmental impact and make the sustainable swaps you're able to but there are some important truths about zero waste living. As individuals we can take responsibility for the purchases we make and the habits we adopt based on our circumstances. We have to take into account everything from price to accessibility to convenience and sustainability. For low waste living to be sustainable, it has to be sustainable for us as individuals too.

There are some zero waste swaps I can't or won't make and a few wasteful things I still buy for a variety of reasons. While I encourage you to make as many sustainable habits shifts as you can, I also encourage you not to feel discouraged or disheartened when you're unable to.



11 | Be An Activist

It should not be down to the individual to take on the burden of trying to fix a problem that cannot be solved by individuals themselves. We need brands, corporations, and big businesses to take responsibility for the waste they create and force us to deal with. One of the most important things you can do to have an impact is to be an activist. While we have to take responsibility for the things we can change (like our habits and purchases), we can also demand companies and councils to take responsibility for their actions too.

Campaign for change by writing letters, signing petitions, and sharing on social media. Contact your local representations, get in touch with supermarkets and brands, and call in businesses to make changes. If you see something you don't like, email, call, or write to a company and ask them to change the way they do business. That might include asking a coffee shop to switch to reusable cups, requesting a brand to remove plastic from their packaging, or asking why you can't use your reusable container in their store. We can have a bigger impact if we collectively pressure corporations and our government to make changes and provide more sustainable options.



12 | A Resource List

Important reading and viewing to learn more about zero waste living, sustainable eating, responsibly-made clothing, and other environmental issues.

Documentaries
  • Plastic Paradise
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Before The Flood
  • Fire In Paradise
  • More Than Honey
  • Dominion
  • Earthlings
  • Land Of Hope and Glory
  • Just Eat It
  • Unravel
  • The True Cost
  • The Machinists

Lots more suggestions here!

Books
  • There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years by by Mike Berners-Lee
  • How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  • A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life by Tara Button
  • The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically by Peter Singer
  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Lots more suggestions here!



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A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life A Zero Waste Challenge: Small Steps Towards A More Considered Life




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