I decided to try a Zero Waste Lifestyle for 30 Days and in this blogpost I will be sharing my experience with you. I initially wanted to live a more waste free life and thought I would kick this of by challenging myself to not produce any trash (that is not 100% recyclable) at all for an entire month.
What is Zero Waste:
Zero waste basically means to avoid producing trash. The simple goals are to avoid buying things in packaging that is not reusable or decomposable, mainly avoiding plastic, being more conscious about waste in general and also as a last resort recycling properly (composting, glass in the glass bin, metal in the metal bin and, you guessed it, paper in the paper bin)
I don’t want to buy anything that is harmful for the environment and/or can’t be reused/recycled or decomposed. For example I couldn’t buy anything that is wrapped in plastic or has packaging that includes plastic. I do want to minimise or swap out anything that produces a lot of trash, like tissues and tampons. If for some reason I would not be able avoid it, I prepared an empty glass jar to collect and remind me about the trash that can not be recycled. Of course I hoped it would stay empty, but that wasn’t the case.
Why I want to live a Zero Waste Lifestyle:
The reasons why I want to live a “zero waste” or “low waste” lifestyle would be too long to talk about in this post. In short: It all started when I watched a bunch of documentaries on sustainability and the environment. These got me frustrated about how little respect we seem to have for our planet. So I decided to take a look at the areas in my life that I can change and those with which I can have, even if it is just a little, an impact. I might not be able to change the world but I can change myself and provide some others with a little perspective. Hence; living as environmental-friendly as possible became my new goal.
Transitioning Phase: Preparing & Researching
I was afraid that I started a bit too abrupt and that it would be too difficult to transition so suddenly. But, since I already made a few sustainable changes to my life before, I actually only needed to swap out a few trash producing things for their sustainable alternatives (I will be talking more about them in a future post). In order to avoid mistakes I had to research almost everything. Whenever I went shopping I had to remind myself to bring my reusable bags and containers. Since recycling is sort of the last resort when it comes to zero waste, lets face it: you simply can’t buy everything unpackaged, I had to check what kind of packaging I would be able to buy. I researched what materials require the least amount of energy and pollution to recycle. For example glass can be recycled over and over again without loosing any of its quality and it doesn’t produce harmful chemicals during the process, like plastic does when you try to ‘recycle’ it. I had to research where to shop and find out what different packaging the different supermarkets tend to use (yes, shopping became a lot of work). In the process I learned a lot about the packaging symbols, what they mean and which are just marketing tricks.
Mistakes I made and hurdles I had to overcome
There were a lot of things that I didn’t know or just didn’t think of before.
Right at the start of my challenge, when I was in a restaurant, I found out the ‘hard’ way. I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice and, of course, it had to come with a plastic straw. I never thought about it before and didn’t realise I had to order a drink specifically without one, but it already was too late! They would just throw away the straw if I’d ask them to remove it (even if I hadn’t even used it yet) and so went into my trash jar, so much for keeping it empty. I felt really guilty and told myself that this could not happen again and that from now on whenever I ordered something to drink, even if it was just a tap water, I would include “without a straw please”. My new rules worked for a while but, as you might guess, at some point I forgot to mention I didn’t want a straw and ended up really frustrated that I had to add another plastic straw to my trash jar. Its not just the cocktails and the smoothie to come with a straw, its just about anything these days.
Before I took a closer look at the packaging symbols I used to believe that I could put just about any kind of paper packaging (even the ones used for frozen fruits and vegetables) in the paper bin and that they would get recycled but I never actually checked the symbols on the back indicating that the paper is lined with a plastic coating, meaning it can’t be recycled and it has to be thrown away with the regular trash. I had been wrongly recycling the last couple of years up to the point that it had probably been better if I hadn’t recycled at all and I felt really embarrassed. My first day of Zero Waste shopping was mainly checking all the symbols on all the packaging to see if the (real) recycling symbol was on it or not.
Things I’ve learned
I was shopping with my boyfriend and our first couple of shopping trips took literally hours! I wanted to make a specific dish and could not get all the ingredients we needed, packaging free (or not wrapped in plastic) at one shop. We had to check out different supermarkets, which in the end took us over 4 hours. Why 4 hours?? Well: because we spend a lot of time reading through the labels, finding specific fruits or veggies unwrapped and apart from that, the supermarkets weren’t exactly across the road of each other so we had to bike from one place to another. Since this was very time consuming I decided not to look for specific ingredients but to simply go shopping and see what I could actually buy zero waste and to find out what dish I could create out of it later.
I have also learned that going to your local farmers market helps a lot when it come to packaging free shopping and that researching the bulk stores nearby provided me with a place to get all kinds of grains and legumes using the (glass and cloth) packaging that I could bring with me.
Another thing I’ve learned is that you can’t do zero waste perfectly! When I am shopping in a bulk store, I don’t know for sure how the shop is getting the things in bulk, maybe they are wrapped in plastic as well. I tried to email one of them to get more information on it but didn’t receive an answer yet.
I don’t live close to a bulk store, so when I go bulk store shopping I have to make a huge purchase at once. My local farmers market isn’t open everyday like a supermarket is, so I have to plan and manage my shopping really well.
When I crave something very desperately, I have to find ways to replace or substitute it with something else. Like berries for example. It was hard to find berries unpacked (I just love my berries on my porridge) and I had to switch to other fruits especially more seasonable fruits like apple and pear. I really missed my raspberries and blueberries, but as soon as summer comes I am going to buy a bunch of them at the local markets and freeze them for autumn and winter. I also decided to grow my own fruits/veggies and herbs such as rosemary, which I love but couldn’t find packaged free yet.
That one time I was craving burritos and tacos (I am obsessed with Mexican food) but I could only buy them wrapped in plastic. So I decided to look up a recipe to try making my own tortillas. It was definitely more time consuming (and not as I expected) but a zero waste alternative.
What is in my trash jar:
two straws I received in a restaurant, where I was too late to prevent them from happening.
A bunch of stickers that are on fruits and vegetables, that’s why I prefer going shopping at a local farmers market.
An empty plastic tissue wrap – I didn’t buy the tissues during those 30 days, so I wasn’t sure wether or not I should put it in the jar.
2 empty pain killer pill packaging- I took two pain killers which are wrapped in plastic. I wish I didn’t need them but I couldn’t get rid of the pain in a zero waste way.
an empty honey packaging- served with tea on my first day of zero waste (I opened it without even thinking about it – stupid mistake – never gonna happen again)
rubber bands- sometimes vegetables and herbs are wrapped with rubber bands
plastic packaging from tights – I received tights from a sustainable stocking company as part of a collaboration (didn’t expect their packaging to contain plastic)
Conclusion /Future Outlook
Even though I had to overcome a lot of struggles, forgot to think about a few things or made mistakes, I still want to continue living this lifestyle. Probably not zero waste and more a low waste lifestyle. Yes, it is time consuming in the beginning, like every change in life is, but once you know where to buy what and what to buy where, it is definitely doable. But I also told myself that if there is something that I really need or something that I simply can’t avoid or stop from happening, I won’t get too upset about it. I received a lot of questions that I will answer in another post/video where I get more in depth of topics like money (is living zero waste more expansive?), where to get specific things like make up – I didn’t buy make up during those 30 days because I didn’t needed it but I will talk more about zero or low waste make up alternatives or just a lot of different alternatives in another post. Also tissues and toilet paper, I still used the tissues I already had at home but made the decision not to buy them wrapped in plastic any more and there are alternatives like tissue and toilet paper made out of bamboo, but like I said I get more in depth about this in another post.
I don’t think you should change everything I changed, I just think small changes already have a huge impact on our environment. Anne Marie Bonneau once said : “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Which is so true! I just want to encourage you to make more conscious decisions and keep in mind no matter how small the change, you can make the world a little better.