Ask most people what zero waste means to them, and they will probably say something to do with rubbish and recycling. But there is a blind spot towards a type of waste which is not only very bad for the environment but is also very expensive – that is, wasted energy. Most household energy use in the UK is for heat, and almost all of this is generated by burning fossil fuels. Considering how expensive energy consumption is we can be surprisingly profligate with this resource. We heat rooms and even whole buildings that are not being used and leave the lights on all night. We fill up the kitchen sink with hot water to wash up just a few things and have a hot shower every single day, whatever the weather. We focus on coffee cups while waste heat from poorly insulated buildings is a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. And the rapidly melting arctic ice is not the only issue – gas boilers contribute to air pollution. So what to do?
Stop paying for waste heat
Turn off radiators in rooms that are not being used and switch off the heat altogether whenever you are not going to be around. If your whole household is going out for the evening, consider resetting the timer so that the heat only comes on when you return and you will save yourself from paying to heat an empty home for several hours. The space will stay warm for a little while after the heat is turned off, so you can set the timer to go off shortly before you leave in the morning/go to bed at night.
Also, you can do some very fancy things with smart tech these days, so consider taking advantage of these to manage your home heat better.
Get the temperature right
If it is freezing outside, but indoors you are quite comfortable in your t-shirt, then you can probably save quite a bit of money and carbon by putting on a jumper and turning down the heat. Experiment until you find the right temperature.
Play around with the furniture
Last year in my own house we managed to warm up a chilly kitchen by rearranging some furniture that was blocking the radiator and closing the door to prevent icy blasts coming in from the hallway. Have a play around to see if anything could be better organised to protect against draughts and make the best use of heat. There are some good ideas here and here if you need inspiration. Energy is too expensive and too costly for the planet to be wasted over simple things that could easily be fixed.
Update your heat source
Spend more time in bed in the mornings
If the weather is not that warm and you are only going to the office, do you still need to shower every single day? A strip wash will not only save money, carbon emissions, and water, it will allow you extra minutes in bed on a morning. And do you need to fill the kitchen sink with hot, soapy water to wash up a few things? Challenge yourself to get the dishes clean with the minimum amount of resources, otherwise you are quite literally paying for things which are going down the drain.
Spend money to save it
If you live in a cold climate like the UK, one of the best things you can do for the environment is make sure that your home is properly insulated. The extent to which you are able to do this depends on whether you own your own home and how much you can afford to spend upfront, but if you can invest in things like loft and wall insulation this will lead to financial savings in the long run. Some people may be eligible for home energy efficiency grants, so it might be worth checking with your local council to see whether this applies to you, while if you live in a privately rented home your landlord is legally obliged to ensure that the building has an energy efficiency rating above a certain level.
Don’t forget the lower-cost hacks as well, such as blankets, rugs, draught-proofing and thicker curtains, described here so beautifully by the blogger Gina Caro. A draught excluder may not be as instagrammable as a salad in a stainless steel tin, but it could turn out to be your most effective zero waste accessory this winter.