The Beginner’s Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
What is zero waste?
Chances are you've heard the word zero-waste lifestyle before, but you might not know what it really means. A zero-waste lifestyle isn't just about eating clean and purging your plastic belongings — it involves adopting a more thoughtful, minimalist approach to living.
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Coming to terms with the amount of harmful waste you produce daily can be seriously overwhelming, but it’s never too late to make a change today. You’ll be doing yourself a favour by saving money on unnecessary purchases and ultimately reducing your own ecological footprint. Ultimately, you’ll be doing the planet a favour by reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.
The key is to start small and work toward achieving your larger sustainability goals. So here are some tips to cultivate a zero-waste lifestyle at home. Get ready to be less wasteful…
- Reuse your plastic bags - Your kitchen is filled with disposable items that are responsible for a whole lot of waste. Some of these items can still be reused over and over again. For example, carry used plastic bags and re-use them whenever you need to purchase something. That way you don’t end up with more plastic bags at home. If you make this a habit, you can drastically reduce your waste and be well on your way to saving the planet.
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- Start composting - Unlike plastics that linger in the environment for hundreds of years, composting is by far the fastest way to reduce what you send to landfill. Fruit and vegetable parts, eggshells, coffee grounds, unbleached paper, tea bags, disease-free houseplants, and much more are some of the items that can be composed. As soon as you start composting, you will reduce the need to put out the trash from once a week to once every few months.
- Skip the takeout and make a homemade meal - cooking at home instead of choosing to order takeout is one of the best ways to avoid the use of single-use items like styrofoam, plastic utensils and plastic bags. Make an effort to prepare food more often at home and prepare in bulk so you can portion it into different days of the week.
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LAUNDRY AND CLEANING
- D.I.Y your household cleaning products - Instead of purchasing multiple cleaning products, downsize your home cleaning supplies to two zero-waste products; vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar kills mould, while baking soda acts as an abrasive scrubber. These all-natural products are a better alternative to dangerous chemical cleaners and can help to eliminate plastic bottle waste as much as possible.
- Use an alternative house cleaning tools - Instead of using paper towels, use worn-out clothing items and cut it into small pieces to turn it into rags. You can also replace the brushes with eco-friendly wooden brush for light scrubbing and an old toothbrush for hard to reach places.
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- Do less frequent laundry - According to a study conducted by the United Nations, washing clothes release 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, equivalent to more 50 billion plastic bottles. While clothes are an everyday necessity, one way to help curb this environmental problem is by limiting laundry washing to only once a week, use a laundry detergent sold in bulk, wash only when it is on full loads, and use cold water cycles as much as possible.
Aim for zero waste personal care and beauty items - When purchasing personal care items like shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, soaps, massage oil and etc, always look for a ‘naked’ alternative that won’t end up in the landfill. There are several shops like LUSH that produce these body care products in a form of powders, bars or tablets instead of liquids, which usually requires a plastic bottle to store it in. My personal favourite items to purchase at LUSH is their solid shampoo bar (which is also great for travelling) and their solid body lotion that melts in your hand with a little help from your skin’s body temperature. Who says you can’t pamper your body without polluting the planet?
Shop at zero packaging store or at the wet market - There are several speciality shops in Malaysia that work on the zero-waste living concept. For a start, you can check out the Zero Waste Map made by Zero Waste Malaysia for the closest markets and shops that sell package-free bulk foods. Just don’t forget to bring your own jars, containers and fabric tote bag along when purchasing from any of these stores.
Consider shopping at the wet market rather than grocery store as their goods sold don’t usually come packed in plastic bags and stickers. You can use fabric bags or baskets to store fruits and veggies and containers to store meat or fish as an alternative to plastic bags.
Besides foods, there are several zero-waste speciality stores in Malaysia that supply a wide range of general zero waste solutions like wooden cutlery kits, compostable plates and even a bamboo flask. The Hive Bulk Foods, for example, offers over 300 of bulk whole foods and other household items such as laundry and kitchen essentials as well as personal care products that are free from plastic.
According to a study conducted by the United Nations, the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. As clothes become cheaper and trend cycles sped up (a.k.a fast fashion), consumers are purchasing clothing more often than they used to 20 years ago. This is causing a major impact on the planet. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget!
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To help curb this problem:
- Buy less - Instead of purchasing “fast fashion” clothing, invest in high-quality clothing that will, in turn, save you money in the long run and you will less likely feel motivated to throw them away easily.
- Choose well - Purchase clothes made of sustainable fabric. These are fabrics made from recycled or eco-friendly materials. For example, polyester made from recycled water bottles. Just make sure you’re looking for specific details, like "100% recycled polyester"
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- Make it last - Wear your clothes until they are completely worn out. You should also avoid throwing your clothes into the washing machine too often to make it last longer.
- Shop at second-hand store - Shopping at a second-hand clothing store saves perfectly good clothing from ending up in the landfill and reduces the overall demand for clothing products.
Conscious thinking - Whether it's a business card at a meeting, a plastic straw at a restaurant, a plastic bag at the store, or a disposable pen or pencils from a conference, recognizing and denying waste - no matter how small - is crucial in helping to save the planet. So the next time you purchase or receives something, think. Do I really need it?