Towards a Zero Waste Home: Room by Room
Written by: Mama Bea , 05 Feb 2019
In a world where over 12 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean every year, where up to 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomaches and where humans are potentially ingesting seafood containing bioaccumulative toxin-absorbed plastics on a regular basis, there has never been a more potent time to start making plastic free changes in our lives. Over the past year or so we have attempted to live a plastic free lifestyle and maintain a low waste household as much as possible. We are not perfect by any means and we still have a long way to go before we can fully call ourselves a zero waste family, but I wanted to put the switches we've made out there to hopefully help anyone else who is starting on their own low waste journey.
In time maybe all our individual efforts will ripple across the world, connecting people from all around the globe, and maybe, just maybe, start to make a real difference by the time our children reach adulthood.
I've tried to make this summary as simple as possible, bullet-pointed items and organised by room, but it doesn't cover everything. If you have any questions or just fancy a chat about any of the following, then feel free to comment below or send me a message.
Unwrapped Fruit and Veg
Shop for unwrapped and plastic free vegetables and fruit as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is to shop local and independent, at greengrocers or the local market. Unfortunately supermarkets still package most of their veg in plastic, but I can almost feel the tide beginning to turn on this.
Unwrapped Fresh Bread
Explore local bakeries to source unwrapped fresh bread. Buying bread this way does work out to be more expensive but it's also much tastier than the pre-packaged sliced bread lining the supermarket shelves. To cut down on bakery visits I've also been trying to bake my own bread once a week, which may not be quite as good as a professionally made fresh loaf, but it does make the house smell absolutely delightful.
Ditch the Plastic Bags
Remember those canvas and tote bags everytime you go shopping. I've started storing a couple in every coat pocket I have, then regardless of what I wear and even if I initally set off out with no intention of buying anything, I will hopefully never be caught without one. Though I have been known to walk home balancing a dozen courgettes under my arm more than a couple of times.
Zero Waste Food Haul
Go on a zero waste food haul armed with plenty old tins, boxes and jars. Zero waste shops are popping up all over the place at the moment, which makes me so happy. Zero waste food shopping is one of my favourite things to do with Roscoe. He learns so much and has recently started to really get involved, which is heartwarming to watch. Instead of buying that picture perfect set of mason jars we just take whatever box/jar/tin we have in the house, I believe making full use of what you already own fits the whole zero waste sentiment perfectly.
Plastic Free Milk Packaging
Consider all options in which to source the household milk. We used to buy milk in recyclable plastic containers, which I never really liked doing given so much of what we send to recycling never actually gets recycled. As a family we try eat vegan as much as possible and Roscoe has recently taken a real liking to vegan milks, he particularly likes oat and soy, though going through all the alternative milk options for kids could take up an entire blog post. At the moment Roscoe drinks lots of soy milk (in tetrapaks), plus alpro soy growing up milk and homemade oat milk. Us parents generally just stick to oat milk in hot drinks and porridge. Another option for non-vegans though is to set up a cow's milk delivery service using glass bottles that can be reused indefinitely.
Plastic free Coffee Packaging
Cut down on using coffee pods and switch to instant, filter or a cafetiere instead. We also try and purchase our coffee grounds from zero waste shops where we fill up a tin dedicated for such a purpose. Another alternative is to use coffee machines and stick to compostable pods (I think Lavazza have started doing this)or pods made out of recyclable materials.
Loose Tea Over Teabags
Many companies use plastic to seal their teabags so we try to buy loose tea at zero waste stores and use a strainer.
Plastic Free Washing Up
In terms of washing up equipment we have ditched the endless plastic bottles of washing up liquid for refilling the same bottle at zero waste stores or our local Ecover refill station. We also use cotton bamboo washable washing up sponges, a scrunchy copper pan scrubber and an old bamboo toothbrush.
Without a doubt snacks used to make up the dominant source of plastic wrapping in the kitchen (i.e. biscuits, nuts, cereal bars etc..) so we now mostly make our own snacks, usually vegan oat bars or banana bread. So much healthier, saves a tonne of plastic waste and actually much more yummy.
Shampoo and Soap Bars
We no longer use any plastic bottles in the bathroom, just shampoo bars and delicious soap bars. I tend to pick the majority of them up from LUSH but there are plenty of online eco companies now which also sell them. We also find that although shampoo bars are more expensive than bottles, they also last much much longer. An alternative would be to refill the bottles you already own, many zero waste stores also have a liquid refillables section.
I've also recently switched to using a safety razor over purchasing those flimsy, plastic disposable things. It does require more concentration but so worth it instead of having to constantly buy new plastic ones, only to be thrown away after a couple of uses.
We used bamboo toothbrushes all the time when we were travelling and they worked well, but since we have been home I have noticed that our electric toothbrush does a better job of cleaning. Roscoe still uses a bamboo toothbrush but I am enjoying using my electric one again for now. We also still use toothpaste in plastic tubes simply because we haven't found a zero waste alternative that works for us yet. I am determined to find a solution soon though.
Plastic Free Period
I absolutely love my mooncup, one of my favourite purchases ever. Its small, portable, zero waste and can be kept in for up to 8 hours meaning I can even use it over night. On particular heavy days I also use cloth sanitary pads, rinse with cold water after use and bang in the washing machine with the next nappy load. One women can use up to 11,000 disposable sanitary products over her lifetime, imagine how much money and waste could be saved if more of them invested in a plastic free period. Period pants such as Thinx are also an option, though I haven't tried them myself.
Plastic Free Toilet Paper
The needless amount of plastic that wraps jumbo packs of toilet roll is more than frustrating. Nowadays we source our toilet rolls from either Who Gives a Crap or buy separate plastic free rolls made of recycled paper from local zero waste stores.
3. Baby/Toddler Room
Cloth Nappies and Wipes
Another one of my favourite zero waste switches - cloth nappies and wipes, in fact I wrote a blog post detailing our cloth nappy routine a few weeks back. One child can use over 4000 nappies before they are fully potty trained and when sent to landfill each one can take up to 500 years to decompose (or more, disposable nappies have only been around for the last 50 years or so, so I guess no one fully knows the answer to this question). Cloth nappies can work out cheaper in the long run (especaialy if you use a local council incentive scheme), are plastic free and let's face it, there's nothing more cute than a little cloth bum.
It's become a bit of a hobby of mine to browse charity shops in search of lost and forgotten wooden toys. I always bear in mind that the less the toy does, the more the child can gain from it and with that philosophy usually pick sustainable, wooden and naturally coloured toys for Roscoe. I especially love those kind of toys that really spark imagination, the kind of toy that makes me want to get down on the floor and play with him. Many plastic toys aren't built to last and cannot be recycled wheras I've known some wooden toys to be passed through generations and enjoyed over and over again as if they are new.
Plastic Free Gift Wrapping
Having a young child also means parties and gifts around christmas and birthdays. During Roscoe's first year I often felt a little down when I saw the unnecessary amount of non-recyclable wrapping paper we had accumulated, so last year we started wrapping all his gifts furoshiki style (from us at least). Any old bits of material and ribbon I could find were put to this purpose, it feels so wonderful to store them away after each use ready to be enjoyed again at the next event. An alternative is to use brown paper or, at the very least, wrapping paper that can be recycled. This can be determined by the srunch test - if the wrapping paper stays scrunched up it can be recycled, if it unfolds back out then it cannot.
Buy Less Clothes and Buy Second Hand
This year I have set myself a pledge to only buy clothes second hand for myself. The rise of cheap, readily available clothes in the fast fashion industry is a relatively recent phenomenon and as a result wardrobes all over the country are full of clothes which are hardly ever worn. Meanwhile clever marketing surrounds us and makes us think we need to constantly go out and buy new things. Rediscovering what we already own at home, whilst spending no money and with unlimited coffee and biscuits on tap is the way to go.
Wear Natural Materials
A fact I did not know until very recently is that up to 30% of all plastic pollution in the ocean comes from microplastics and much of this comes from microfibres released into waterways when we wash our synthetically made clothes. As such it is wise to consider what your clothes are made out of and try stick to wearing natural materials (i.e. wool, cotton) as much as possible. Alternatively you could wash the synthetic clothes (made from materials such as nylon or polyester) in a washing bag to try trap those microfibres.
5. Utility Cupboard
I initially bought our Ecoegg to use on the cloth nappies but I love it so much I now use it for almost everything. Not only does it prevent detergent from washing down the drain and polluting waterways but it's super easy to use (just chuck it in the drum on top of the laundry), it comes with less plastic packaging than the average liquid detergent and it's small and portable. We took it on our 3 month backpacking adventure around Asia last year which meant I could wash the cloth nappies almost anywhere. I tend to put a drop of essential oil in there too as the egg doesn't leave much of a scent. One egg plus the refillable pellets that come with it claim to last up to 3 years of laundry, but I'm not totally convinced by this and to be honest it's not amazing on hardcore stains. Once again, an alternative would be to reuse a detergent bottle you already have and refill it in a zero waste store.
Versatile Surface Cleaner
To save buying more plastic bottles or having to take our current bottles to be refilled I've started making my own surface cleaner. I save up orange/lemon peel and soak them in white vinegar (in an old jar) for around a week before mixing with 1/2 water and a drop of essential oil and decanting into an old spray bottle. Simple to make, cheap and works a treat. It's wise to remember though that just because something is natural, doesn't mean it is 100% safe, essential oils are unregulated and as such their potential harmful effects are relatively unknown. I would say it's best to use them sensibly and sparingly. If the fruit peel has been left in the vinegar for more than a week then I often find I don't need the essential oil to add to the scent.
6. In my backpack on the go
Reusable water bottle
Reusable coffee cup
Metal reusable straws
Travel cutlery set (when travelling)
Pre-made snacks to avoid convenience food
The state of our planet is everyone's responsibility and the only answer to how we can globally give up plastic is for everyone to come together and start making a difference now.
Thanks for reading.
'How to give up Plastic', Will McCallum, Penguin Books, 2018
'Now that 'single use' is the word of the year, plastic's days are numbered' Louise Edge, Nov 2018: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/now-single-use-word-year-plastics-days-numbered/ (accessed 05/02/19)
'Fight Against Plastic Pollution': https://www.wwf.org.uk/fight-plastic-pollution (accessed 05/02/19)
'Future of the Sea: Plastic Pollution', Review commissioned as part of the UK government's Foresight Future of the Sea project, Richard C. Thompson, July 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-the-sea-plastic-pollution
'F**k Plastic', Seven Dials, Orion Publishing Group, London, 2018.