I Tried Going “Zero Waste” for a Week. Here’s What Happened

First off, you’re probably asking and rightly so….what the zero waste movement actually is? To be honest, I am still fumbling my way through trying to discover what it all means in practice. To put it very simply, at its core is a conscious effort to reduce your impact on the planet and prevent waste from going to the dump. Since the lifestyle focuses heavily on eliminating waste, I thought it would be counter intuitive to throw out plastic household items such as toiletries and groceries that I was already using.

In theory, it sounds so much easier than it actually is in practice. You are essentially trying to give up all of the conveniences in your life in order to reduce the amount of waste your produce. If you are having a chocolate craving….sorry think again, that bar is wrapped in plastic. Hungry but didn’t bring food or a container, tough luck on finding an item that isn’t stored in single use plastic. Then my absolute weakness – crisps – think again – the foil packaging most loved brands of crisps come packaged in are not recyclable.

Why?

Ireland, per head of population is among one of the highest waste producers in Europe. In 2016 alone, we, a small island with a population of 4.7 million persons, produced 2763,166 tonnes of waste. So over the past few months I have spent time trying to confront my most wasteful of habits and thought I would try something to test myself – I tried going “zero waste”, just for a week to see if I could do it. My overall aim in reducing my waste is that I will hopefully buy less, save money, reduce clutter and make more healthy choices.

My experience of attempting to go “zero waste” for one week 

Full disclosure, I am not a saint and I did in fact produce waste this week. When I say “waste” I am not taking into account food waste which I compost and recyclable materials such as cardboard etc. I am solely talking about non recyclable, single use materials such as soft plastic.

I found it very hard when it came to food shopping to find for more eco-friendly and sustainable options in my general supermarket. Everything…and I mean everything in fruit and veg was wrapped in single use plastic. Very little was sold loose. I was able to buy items like onions, peppers and tomatoes loose. Another annoying point was that all items which were sold lose without wrapping came in at a much heftier cost than their packaged counterparts. For example, in Supervalu a large bag of carrots contained in plastic came in at a cost of €0.49c, a bunch of carrots sans plastic came in at a cost of €2.50….like what?? Note to self – I need to carve out more time to go to local fruit and veg stores and farmers markets to buy my produce in the future.

Other than that, my main use of waste during the week came from….dare I even say….plastic bottles. The water where I live is not really drinkable, well its drinkable in the sense that it won’t harm you but it never gets below room temperature. There is a water fountain just outside which you can go to fill  up bottles, however, if I am at the store and I cave I will usually opt for buying a 6 pack of large bottles of water so I can have it more readily on hand throughout the week. This is a really bad habit which I have vowed to cut out!

Other than this my waste came from items such as crisp packets or chocolate. Some other waste accrued throughout the week from old habits, I would be with friends and offered a sweet and take one without thinking that the wrapper is waste. I also would opt for the easier solution such as using Flahavans Organic Quick oats in the morning for breakfast rather than use the rolled oats from the recyclable bag. The container the quick oats comes in, although super quick and easy to use, is not recyclable (again, auto-pilot problems).

Lessons Learnt

Fear not, I have done some handy research so you don’t have to:

  • Terra Cycle Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme: Drop off your designated items at a TerraCycle waste drop off point, there is an interactive map on the website so you can locate the nearest location to you. When you drop off your waste, TerraCycle points are transferred to the public drop-off location administrator, who can then donate the points to the charity of their choice.
  • Terra Cycle Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Programme – operated as above. Accepted items in this programme shown below:
zero waste post

Here are my top tips for getting started:

  • Don’t even consider buying a plastic bag – bring a tote bag/reusable shopping bag to the shops with you. If you forget them inquire at the till about a cardboard box which you can store your items in.
  • Stock up on reusable produce bags.
  • Be more conscious when shopping for personal care and beauty. Opt for more eco-friending brands such as The Humble Co. now stocked in Supervalu. Take a look at other stores such as –
  • A sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle isn’t going to be built in a day. I have been on the sustainable journey for the past couple of months. In truth, it does cost some money to get started so I would opt to make small transitions every month. My top tip would be to initially start out by buying some reusable glass containers for bulk shopping, otherwise you will be caught out when you head to your local bulk store and end up purchasing their hardware.
  • Take some time reflecting on every day habits – this may sound really silly but I accrued a large chunk of my waste by doing things on auto-pilot throughout the week. My tip to combat this would be to slow down and be more intentional in your everyday life.
  • Eat in more – restaurant and take out meals involve a lot of rubbish. Budget Bytes is a great resource for budget friendly recipes.
  • Be conscious of items you are disposing as waste – not all items are waste and can be recycled. Common items which are disposed of incorrectly are batteries, old electronics and clothes. Check out my previous post on this for more guidance.
  • Prep food for on the go – its going to be challenging to grab food on the go. Meal prep has always been a struggle of mine so this is something I need to address more!
  • Get thrifty
  • Compost – I live in a shared living situation so I can understand the difficulty with composting etc. I purchased a small closed pedal bin and compostable bin liners. 

Conclusion 

Due to the linear economy model Ireland and many countries prescribe to, it is next to impossible to live a “zero waste” lifestyle. All hope is not lost as we can opt to drastically reduce our waste by making cleaner, more sustainable choices and refusing to opt for single-use waste such as disposable cups, cutlery, plates, bags and wrapping plastic etc. So it is doable to adapt what has become known as a #minimalwaste lifestyle i.e. opting overtime to trade disposable items for reusable and more eco-friendly alternatives. Take note how I mentioned ‘over time’. In order for this move to a more eco-friendly lifestyle to remain sustainable….pardon the pun, it needs to be done progressively. No one wants to render themselves bankrupt in the process.

One simple but very efficient way to start is to look at your daily routine and ask yourself “what items could be traded for reusable options?”. Make a list and commit to 2 or 3 areas per month to begin with and commit to more sustainable practices. These steps could be as simple as:

  • carrying a reusable water bottle;
  • a keep cup;
  • replacing everyday supermarket brand aluminium foil with 100% recycled aluminium or beeswax wraps for sandwiches and cold foods;
  • replacing your disposable cotton pads in the bathroom you use to remove your make up with a reusable cotton cloth;
  • Change up your beauty routine and opt for more eco-friendly brands. A fave discovery of mine in 2019 was Sukin Naturals. They are 100% vegan, made with natural ingredients and produce everything from cleansers to moisturiser. Even more is of a plus is their affordable price point. Some of my tried and tested go to products are:
  • If you are anxious about changing up your personal hygiene and beauty routine and don’t want to splash out on a number of products, I would recommend opting in to a Natural Beauty Box for a month or two to test out some items and get a better feel for what you would like. Personally, I subscribe to the Natural Skincare Emporium and through this I have discovered a number of go to product alternatives. They offer once off or monthly subscription options.
  • Change up your personal hygiene routine: this is generally the one that most people are anxious about. I have changed up my routine by opting to alternate use of my electric toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush (I just can’t bring myself to fully stop using my electric toothbrush, but I have sussed some eco alternatives and will share once they are tried and tested). I also use a natural toothpaste and deodorant by Ben and Anna. I have also opted to use more eco-friendly cotton buds from The Humble Co.

If you have any tips, feel free to share in the comments!

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