7th-11th September marks this year's Zero Waste Week, an annual drive to raise awareness of the impact of waste on our shared planet. The campaign aims to mobilise a global community of eco warriors to minimise waste and shift towards the economy, so naturally we're taking part and sharing our top tips so you can join the Zero Waste Week adventure!
The most important thing to remember in your zero waste journey is the five R's: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. Follow this formula, and you're well on your way towards an eco-conscious lifestyle that makes a positive impact on the environment and within your community.
However, we know how difficult (and expensive!) it can be to implement zero waste habits once you start noticing just how much waste modern life creates, and how much plastic sneaks it's way into almost everything. With that in mind, we've rounded up twenty really simple, intuitive zero waste hacks to add to your sustainable living toolkit. Give them a try and let us know how you get on - tag @globalwakecup and #zerowasteweek with your ideas!
1. Soak off labels and reuse food jars
One of the best ways to reduce single-use plastic waste in your kitchen is to buy dry foods in bulk from a zero waste store. Mason jars are perfect for storing things like rice, flour and pasta, but the most sustainable product is the one you already own, so get creative and reuse jars from jams, pickles and spreads instead! To get your jar clean and clear, simply soak the whole thing in warm water for about 20-30 minutes, and the label will begin to loosen, or you should be able to scrape it off with a palette knife. If the label is still stubbornly sticking, wipe on coconut oil and wait a few hours - then the label will come right off. To remove any remaining glue residues, simply rub eucalyptus or lemon oil across the jar.
2. Eat seasonal and local produce
If you are lucky enough to have access to a supermarket which supplies plenty of fresh fruit and veg, you'll notice that you can buy berries, tropical fruits, root vegetables, salad, herbs, meat, fish and more, all year round, from all over the world. In reality, this way of shopping and cooking is highly unnatural and creates colossal carbon emissions, not to mention packaging waste and chemical preservatives. You can help minimise your impact by choosing fresh food that was grown locally (you'll find this information on most supermarket labels), and pick produce which is in season throughout the year - here is a great UK seasonal food calendar to follow.
3. Save cooking water for your compost
When you boil pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables or eggs, do you ever think about what a waste all that water is as you pour it down the drain? This cooking water contains plenty of useful nutrients, so next time save it by placing your colander directly over another pot, and using the water to feed your compost pile or garden. If you haven't started a compost bin yet - here are some top tips!
4. Reuse water to feed houseplants
While you're waiting for the tap to run hot or cold, or while you're washing dishes or rinsing cloths, why not try saving the spare water in a bottle or jug? Then, you can use this surplus to water your houseplants later, keeping your greens growing at no extra cost!
5. Regrow vegetable scraps
A popular lockdown activity for the whole family, one really simple way to save on food waste is to save the ends you've cut off from vegetables and regrow the scraps into brand new shoots. You can do this with carrots, celery, spring onions, lettuce, cabbage and more - simply place the ends face-up in a shallow dish of water on your windowsill and watch them grow!
6. Use loo roll tubes to grow seedlings
The average person in the UK gets through over 110 toilet rolls a year, which leads to a huge amount of cardboard waste from the inner roll. Recycling is one option, but an even better zero waste step is to reuse, and gardening is the perfect way to extend the life of those loo rolls and save money instead of buying new plant pots. Simply stack the rolls in a tray, fill each one with soil, and plant your seeds to start them out before they go in the ground - so easy!
7. Refuse junk mail
Takeaway menus, coupons cleaning adverts, clothing catalogues... it's time to say no to the truckloads of junk mail that goes from letterbox to bin in no time. One option is to put a small sign on your front door that says: 'no junk mail/free newspapers/commercial leaflets', but you can also fill in this Royal Mail form, this charity opt-out service, or return promotional post to the sender by writing: 'unsolicited mail, return to sender'.
8. Switch to paperless billing
Another great way to reduce paper waste at home is to sit down at your computer or phone for an hour or so to go through all your bills (think banks, building societies, store cards, wifi, phone, gas, electricity) and switch to an online, paperless billing option.
9. Practice better recycling etiquette
Recycling isn't always as simple as dumping in the right bin and hoping for the best. To ensure your waste get recycled properly, remember to fully clean and dry all food and drink packaging, remove sticky plastic labels and unscrew lids from bottles. Unfortunately, you can't usually recycle things like paper kitchen towels, crisp packets, cling film, lightbulbs and polystyrene - so keep these out of shared recycling bins. Here are some more do's and don'ts of recycling.
10. Turn your dental routine green
We brush our teeth twice a day, every day of our lives, so the amount of plastic waste can be nothing short of staggering. Fortunately, it's really easy to make simple bathroom swaps to make your dental habits more sustainable. You can use solid toothpaste tablets rather than toothpaste tubes, switch to a bamboo toothbrush, use biodegradable dental floss, and avoid toothpastes and mouthwashes with microbead crystals in order to reduce microplastic residues. Make sure to turn off the tap while brushing to save water too!
11. Use simple sustainable fashion hacks
Extend the life of your clothes by making them fit better using some easy style hacks. For example, fix a loose zip by attaching a keyring, take in trouser waists using the belt loop, or crop a sweatshirt with a shoelace. Magic!
12. Upcycle and customise your clothes
Beyond learning basic sewing techniques like sewing on buttons and fixing seams so you can mend your clothes with ease, you can also makeover garments that might otherwise seem destined for landfill. For example, if you've got a stain that just won't budge (and you've tried these methods first), a great way to salvage that item is to simply dye it a darker colour to cover up the stain and breathe in a new lease of life for your clothes. Dylon washing machine pods are perfect for a quick, easy and cheap upcycle!
13. Swap, don't shop
Did you know that the average British woman only wears about 74% of her wardrobe? Instead of heading to the charity shop or reselling online, try swapping your clothes for a waste-free way to keep them in the loop. Attend a local swap shop, barter on Facebook groups, or use a wardrobe sharing app such as Nuw.
14. Learn your clothing labels
Learning to properly care for your clothes is an underrated but important way to make them last longer, and therefore minimise textile waste. Before you chuck your jumper in the washing machine or put a hot iron to your shirt, take 30 seconds to check the inner label for laundry instructions. Here is a handy guide to decoding the symbols on clothing labels.
15. Stop and smell the flowers
Instead of buying plastic-wrapped bouquets of flowers transported halfway across the world, freshen up your home by picking local wildflowers (which is totally legal!) and displaying them in empty jam jars or even wine bottles. Why not join in with The Great British WIldflower Hunt for a fun activity to help kids reconnect with nature?
16. Visit your local library
Many of us have been rediscovering the joy of reading in 2020, but ordering books online usually means excessive single-use packaging and transport emissions. If your local library has reopened during lockdown, pay them a visit, pick up a library card and enjoy books without the waste. You could try listening to audiobooks to cut out the paper altogether!
17. DIY your cleaning regime
Cleaning products usually come in plastic containers, so a good sustainable swap is to learn some DIY cleaning recipes and filling up reusable glass bottles. Here are some simple steps to make your own kitchen cleaner, degreaser and oven cleaner, and you can use rags from old t-shirts or tea towels as reusable cleaning cloths too.
18. Make your own pet food
Feeding your four legged friend can have a surprising waste cost, with non-recyclable pouches and bulky tins filling up your bins and 'eco' alternatives often costing the earth. Instead, you can try making your own pet food for both cats and dogs - it'll be a trial and error process to see what they like, but can save you some cash and plenty of packaging too!
19. Embrace wonky food
Remember, zero waste doesn't always mean zero plastic. With that in mind, you can level up your zero waste cooking by picking up 'wonky' food - aka misshapen or so-called 'ugly' fruit and vegetables from the supermarket or using a service like Oddbox or Wonky Veg. Buying packaged food from the 'reduced' aisle while shopping can also help save on food waste, and save money too.
20. Invest in quality reusables
Last but certainly not least, sometimes the simplest zero waste hacks are the most effective! Remember to always bring your straws, cups, bags and bottles when you're out and about, investing in quality, long-lasting products like ours to reduce thousands of single-use-plastics and protect our oceans.
Check out this blog post for even more easy zero waste and plastic-free swaps to make at home and on the go.