Step 1. Just Say No to Crap
Forget about disposability and think instead about value. Why invest your money in something that you expect to use only briefly then get rid of?
A question I’m often asked is ‘couldn’t I just use x, then recycle/compost it?’ The answer is yes, it will certainly reduce the amount of stuff that goes to the landfill, if that’s your aim. But to truly go zero, one must commit to refusing to allow crap into your life in the first place. Before you buy anything (or accept any freebie) ask: is it designed to be used just once, or for a short time, and then thrown away? What happens to it when I’ve finished with it? Who produced it and in what conditions? What happens to ‘not currently recyclable?’ Where do gadgets go when they die?’
Consider the resources that went into producing the item in the first place, transporting it, recycling the material, manufacturing it into something new, and transporting it again. Every time we dispose of something and buy more we repeat this cycle.
Disposing of stuff just means you’ll have to go back to the shops and buy some more. Who do you suppose benefits from this? Make life easy for yourself.
And wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by high quality, well-functioning items, than rubbish?
Step 2: Make the Changes That Will Have The Biggest Impact
I’m not going to tell you to bring your own reusable cups and bags, because you’ve already thought of that, and anyway, why start so small? Unless you drink a lot of takeaway coffees and use a lot of plastic bags, these probably aren’t your biggest waste generators.
For best results, make the changes that will have the biggest impact. Take a step back and consider everything you buy that doesn’t last that long, remembering that actual stuff takes more resources to produce than rubbish. Perhaps it’s gadgets that now sit unused in some box, fashion you buy but hardly wear, leisure equipment that spends most of the time in the loft. All of these took oil and water to produce, not to mention the climate-damaging emissions involved in manufacturing and transporting the stuff, or the exploitative labour practices involved in many mass produced goods. So consider all of these as well as the single-use disposables filling up landfill sacks.
If you have a lot of stuff sitting around going to waste, think about passing it on to someone who can use it. You get lovely clutter-free space, your recipient gets stuff cheaply or for free, and between you you have reduced the demand for more new stuff to be produced.
Then, have a look inside your bin and see what it’s mostly full of. Ask yourself why. And start from there.
Step 3: Reset Your Defaults
1) Only send to landfill what can’t be reused, composted or recycled.
Hands up who has a recycling bin in their kitchen? Office? What about the bathroom? Bedroom? Under your desk?
As a society we waste as default, and if we happen to feeling virtuous, make the effort to recycle, or perhaps compost. Why? We could just as easily have recycling bins in all the places we have ‘general waste’ bins. And is the kitchen the only place we produce biodegradable waste? Most of what we throw away can be recycled or will rot.
2) Only buy something new if you have exhausted all the other options.
Rethink the idea that everything you need must be owned. Much of the stuff that sits unused in cupboards and garages across the land are items that were bought for specific occasions or activities. These are the kind of things that can easily be hired. Google it. You’d be surprised what you can hire.
Even better, could it be borrowed? If your family and friends can’t help, try Streetbank or see if there are any other local schemes, such as a Library of Things.You could save lots of money as well as space.
If you need to buy something (and it’s not food!) does it have to be brand new? Why? New stuff costs more money and isn’t necessarily better quality. In fact buying second hand is often a good way to get quality stuff cheaply. It’s easy and reduces the demand for new stuff to be produced.
Step 4: Go for the Easy Wins
Who doesn’t love an easy win? And the good news is that the easiest thing you can do will also make the most difference and save you lots of money. That is: buy less stuff. Forget about spending Saturday afternoon at the shopping mall, deprived of fresh air and daylight, spending your earnings on stuff you may not even use that much. You can definitely think of better ways to spend your time and your money.
And keep an eye out for other easy ways to reduce waste. Refuse the straw and the plastic bag. Get a zero waste toothbrush next time. Take your own reusable cup to use with the office water cooler. Cut up that old t-shirt to use instead of paper tissues. Refill your water bottle.
Step 5: Enjoy It
Enjoy the challenge of going zero. It feels good to be liberated from cycle of buying, hoarding, and disposing of crap. Now, what are you going to do with all that extra time and money?